Nevada has committed to boosting its high school graduation rate to 85 percent, setting new evaluation standards for teachers and principals, and creating an accountability task force for the state's public school system.
The state is not shy about admitting it's the worst in the nation for education if it means getting $175 million from the Race to the Top grant fund competition sponsored by the Obama administration.
The Governor's Blue Ribbon Task Force finished the grant application Tuesday with an acknowledgment of the state's 51st ranking "for students' chance at success" thrown in "for boldness," said Heath Morrison, superintendent of the Washoe County School District.
The ranking was issued in the Quality Counts 2010 study by the Education Research Center. The survey included the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
"Yes, we know where we are, but more importantly this is where we want to go," said Morrison, who stressed the need for a narrative that would capture the attention of the grant evaluators.
State applications for the second round of the Race to the Top grants are due to the U.S. Department of Education by 4 p.m. June 1. Winners will be announced this summer.
Nevada missed the first round of applications that were due in January. The state was ineligible because of a Nevada law that prohibited test scores and student data from being used in the evaluation of teachers.
The law was amended this year during a special session of the Legislature called because of the budget crisis.
Elaine Wynn, an education advocate and philanthropist, and Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, led the 29-member task force, which included teachers, parents, state lawmakers, business leaders and union officials.
Consensus from all segments of the population is considered essential to a successful grant application, but the school districts in Esmeralda and Eureka counties have so far not endorsed the proposal.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Keith Rheault said the two counties were concerned they would not receive much money for their effort under the funding formulas. Because the state Department of Education has promised to supplement their shares, they have agreed to reconsider the endorsement, Rheault said.
The application already has the support of the school districts that represent 99 percent of the state's student population, he said.
Many of the details of the grant application are vague because they're only considered a "blueprint" for educational reform in Nevada.
"We couch this in terms of aspiration," Wynn said.
The Legislature would have to enact the necessary changes in policy.
Task force members like the idea of simplifying the various state committees and board that govern education and creating an "accountability agent" responsible for overseeing the reform agenda.
The grant application also calls for "significant investment in the expansion of Teach for America's Las Vegas Valley corps."
Teach for America is a private non-profit group that recruits recent college graduates to teach in public schools with high needs.
Allison Serafin, the executive director of Teach for America in the Las Vegas Valley, is a member of the governor's task force and was responsible for the section of the application that calls for more investment of her organization.
Serafin said there was no conflict of interest.
"I'm actually not the one who advocated it," she said after the meeting. "It was recommended prior to my being asked to join the Blue Ribbon Task Force."
The application must be approved by the governor, the attorney general, the state Board of Education and the state superintendent before it's submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.
Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@review journal.com or 702-374-7917.