Nevada will get $25 million next school year from a federal grant program announced Wednesday by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who appeared together at Harmon Elementary School.
The $2.5 billion grant program is intended to help about 5,000 U.S. schools that serve low-income students and are designated as "needing to show improvement" under No Child Left Behind, the federal education accountability law.
States will identify eligible schools, which should be in the bottom 5 percent of low-performing schools.
As a condition of the grant program, the U.S. Department of Education is requiring districts to choose one of four kinds of "strong medicine" to improve a school's academic performance: replacing the principal and at least half of the staff; turning the school into an independent charter school; closing the school and transferring the students to better schools; or "transforming the school" with a strategy that rewards teacher performance and increases community services to students. The fourth option still requires a change in the school's leadership.
The tough-love approach is in response to the educational "crisis," which Reid likened to the health care crisis because the "status quo" cannot be allowed to continue.
Duncan brought up Nevada's high dropout rate, noting the state has 36,000 high school freshmen but only 22,000 high school seniors.
"Where did those 14,000 students go?" said Duncan, before answering his own question. "We're losing too many students to the streets."
By offering money for innovation, Duncan said, "I've challenged the country to stop these dropout factories."
The U.S. Department of Education also is offering up to $5 billion in grants as part of its "Race to the Top" program. But Nevada is ineligible because of a state law that does not allow student achievement data to be used in a teacher's evaluation.
Duncan said he could not answer a question about whether Nevada could get a waiver of the requirement, which is something the Clark County School Board is proposing in a resolution to be considered at a meeting tonight.
Duncan said the grant selection process is still under review. States should "put their best forward," he said. "There will be a lot more losers than there are winners."
The education secretary spoke at a high-achieving elementary school where the majority of students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program and half are limited-English speakers. Harmon is at 5351 S. Hillsboro Lane, near the intersection of Mountain Vista Street and Hacienda Avenue.
Duncan presented the school with a signed basketball. The former public schools superintendent for Chicago played basketball for Harvard University and a professional basketball league in Australia. He is known to shoot hoops with President Barack Obama.
After visiting Harmon, Duncan stopped at Valley High School, 2839 S. Burnham Ave., near Eastern Avenue south of Sahara Avenue, to recognize the school for achieving "exemplary turn-around" status under No Child Left Behind.
The secretary met with school staff and the student council.
"He was very gracious, positive," Valley Principal Ron Montoya said. "He said all the right things. I'm an Arne Duncan fan."
Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug @reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.