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Nevada takeover to start with handful of low-performing schools

CARSON CITY — A new initiative proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval to have the state take over underperforming schools probably will involve only a handful of the troubled institutions initially, a state official said Tuesday.

Dale Erquiaga, state superintendent of public instruction, said that if Gov. Brian Sandoval’s plan to create an Achievement School District is approved by the Legislature, no more than six to 10 underperforming schools probably would see a state takeover in the 2016-17 school year.

This despite the fact that the state Department of Education announced Friday there were 78 underperforming schools statewide, including 49 in the Clark County School District.

“I would like to fix all 78 schools tomorrow, but we have to do this right,” Erquiaga told a joint meeting of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees. “It is a measure of last resort. It will only be a handful of schools.”

Sandoval announced in his State of the State address Thursday that it is time to address the issue of persistently failing schools, many of which have been underperforming for a decade.

“We must draw a line in the sand and say, ‘No more,’ ” he said.

Sandoval has recruited former Washoe County schools Superintendent Pedro Martinez to help with the initiative as a superintendent in residence with the Nevada Department of Education. Martinez will help design the bill to make sure the achievement district is done right, Erquiaga said.

Erquiaga said it will take time for the Education Department to recruit the charter management organizations that would oversee the achievement schools. There will have to be a long discussion with the families of students at the underperforming schools who might not support such a move, he said.

A bill giving the state Board of Education the authority to designate the achievement schools will be introduced during the legislative session, which starts Feb. 2.

While not all underperforming schools will become part of the achievement district, Sandoval’s budget proposes new and expanded funding to help these schools improve, Erquiaga told the lawmakers.

The plan includes nearly $50 million in new funding for low-performing schools that have high levels of poverty, which will be called Victory Schools; an expansion of English language learner funding from $50 million to $100 million; and an expansion of all-day kindergarten to all classes statewide with $150 million in total funding in the new two-year budget.

“We’re going to continue to work with the school districts to make those schools better,” Erquiaga said.”But the governor was very clear we want a measure of last resort, a line in the sand, and that is an achievement district.”

Martinez, who was let go by the Washoe County School Board in a controversial move that upset many parents and others, said after the State of the State that he is honored to help in trying to turn around Nevada’s low-performing schools.

“In Washoe we were very successful in turning around our low-performing schools,” he said. “The reality is that our children are suffering for it. Communities don’t have any chance to get better if education doesn’t get better.”

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801.

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