Gibbons to use federal funds to hire new teachers

CARSON CITY -- Gov. Jim Gibbons agreed Thursday to accept $83 million in federal funds to hire 1,400 additional teachers across the state.

After talking with several school district superintendents and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Keith Rheault, Gibbons said they all agreed to use the new teachers to reduce class sizes in all grades and to offer students additional help in reading and math, including high school students.

"Though the federal funding is limited to one year, I have high hopes that we can use this money to directly deliver more education services to our children and grandchildren," said Gibbons in a statement. "With both declining revenues and declining enrollment, Nevada K-12 schools have been hard hit, and our children are bearing the brunt of this economic downturn."

The U.S. Department of Education has not yet released applications to allow states to seek the funds.

But Daniel Burns, Gibbons spokesman, said applications may be available today and the governor will work quickly to complete one for Nevada's share of $26.1 billion in funds.

Clark County Superintendent Walt Rulffes said superintendents have been told the money could be available as early as September. He expressed doubts about that timetable, but said he will appoint a committee of principals to come up with a plan on how to use the additional teachers in his county.

Through the funds, the school district may be able to hire more than 1,000 additional teachers.

Some school districts, however, already have opened for the 2010-11 year and others open next week.

Rulffes was confident that as soon as funds are available, teachers can be quickly hired and assigned to schools.

"It is 180 degrees different than two or three years ago," he said. "Supply exceeds demand."

He added his preference is to allow individual school principals to determine where to place the newly hired teachers.

Gibbons on Wednesday had questioned whether he would accept the federal funds on behalf of Nevada out of concern that the federal government might make requirements that obligated the state to spend additional money in the future.

But Burns said the governor's staff read the enabling legislation and believe if the additional teachers are hired, the state is not required to guarantee them jobs in the future.

"This at least will give 1,400 teachers a job for a year," Burns said. "I am not sure what the future holds."

Besides the $83 million to hire more teachers in Nevada, the bill signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama also includes $79 million in additional Medicaid funds for the state.

Medicaid is the free health care program for the poor, disabled and elderly not covered by other programs.

Rulffes said the Republican governor expressed no doubts about accepting the money for teachers in his conversation Thursday with Gibbons. Most Republicans in Congress had voted against the bill.

Burns said even if Gibbons had refused the money, school districts under the law after 30 days would have been permitted to apply for the funds. If Gibbons didn't apply now, it only would have delayed the receipt of funds to Nevada schools, he added.

By acting quickly, Nevada schools now can move to hire teachers who otherwise would have been grabbed up by California and other states, he said.

In their examination of the law, Gibbons' staff concluded that besides hiring new teachers, the federal funds could have been used to give raises to existing teachers.

But Gibbons said he and the principals decided the most appropriate use of the one-time funds would be to hire more teachers to provide special services to students and reduce class sizes.

"Nevada's future depends on providing the best education possible for our children," the governor said.

"We need to stop using education funds to pay for union dues and layers of bureaucracy. Our K-12 education funding is too precious to be used for anything other than educating our children."

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.