CARSON CITY -- Nevada teachers would see longer probationary periods, tougher performance evaluations and potential achievement bonuses under a proposal unveiled Thursday by Democrats.
The reform proposals will be included in a series of bills to be introduced next week. They're aimed at increasing accountability for teachers and administrators, and directing the K-12 and higher education systems to become more efficient and deliver students who are better prepared for the job market.
Nevada K-12 students rank near the bottom of the country in achievement and graduation rates. Higher education leaders claim to be so short of funds that they might have to close campuses.
"Despite all we are facing, we are as committed as ever to improving student achievement in the state of Nevada," Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said.
One of the proposed reforms would increase the length of the one-year probationary period for new teachers to three years. Another would put experienced teachers back to probationary status if they received unsatisfactory evaluations for two consecutive years.
"There are many good educators who deserve to be rewarded for their successes," said Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas. "There are also some teachers who don't belong in the classroom and we are going to try and take care of that problem as well."
In addition to achievement bonuses and tougher evaluations for teachers, Democrats want to create a new state board of charter schools. It would remove the authority to sponsor charter schools from the State Board of Education and eliminate the board's subcommittee on charter schools.
Under their plan, the new board would have two members appointed by the governor, two by the Senate majority leader, two by the Assembly speaker and one from an association of charter schools.
Democrats are seeking to establish themselves as the champions of education and cast Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is proposing education cuts to balance the general fund budget without raising taxes, as their political foil.
Sandoval's office was noncommittal in responding to the proposals.
"The governor looks forward to a full review of all education reform measures that will be introduced by members of the Legislature, as well as the package he discussed in the State of the State address and will be presenting soon," Sandoval spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner said. "There is near-universal agreement that the current system isn't working, and we need to do more for our students, parents and teachers. Meaningful education reform must be enacted this session."
The proposals rolled out Thursday included at least two ideas that would cost money. One was performance bonuses for teachers and the other the creation of Nevada Reading Skills Development Centers at universities in Las Vegas and Reno, which would produce reading specialists who would work at every elementary school in the state.
When asked how they planned to pay for the programs, Oceguera referred to $20 million Sandoval set aside in his budget for teacher performance pay.
"I'd assume there's at least $20 million available," Oceguera said.
Horsford referred to $220 million in room tax money that had been set aside for teachers before Sandoval proposed directing the money to the state's general fund.
Both parties have talked about the need to reform the state's education system but haven't agreed on a strategy.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.