Sides reach deal on education program

CARSON CITY — Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons and Senate Democrats have reached a compromise over an education “empowerment” program that allows schools to decide what needs funding the most.

The Senate Human Resources and Education Committee on Friday recommended for approval an amended measure, SB238, containing the deal.

The two sides had differed over several key issues, particularly the $60 million in proposed spending under the governor’s program.

Gibbons aide Jodi Stephens said a key factor in the compromise was removal of the money from the bill. She said $60 million was instead added to SB305, which calls for a variety of changes to public education.

Stephens said how the money is accessed and what it can be used for will be decided later, but she expects school districts will get more flexibility in how they can use the funds.

The compromise allows up to 5 percent of schools in Nevada’s two most populous counties, Clark and Washoe, to become empowerment schools, with a maximum of 100 statewide. It also allows charter schools and rural school districts to apply to be empowerment schools as well.

The program would decentralize much of the authority that currently rests with districts down to the school level and give school principals control over nearly all of a school’s budget.

Gibbons was pleased with the compromise and thinks similar programs are working well to raise student performance across the country, Stephens said.

State Sen. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, also hailed the deal. The final version “provides real decision-making by principals, teachers, parents and community leaders, control over spending at an individual school and increased accountability,” Horsford said in a news release.

“This is a critical step forward in accomplishing something we have been talking about for years: Allowing those closest to the day-to-day operation of a school to make decisions that truly meet the unique needs of their students,” he added.

Horsford earlier said he wouldn’t compromise on the $60 million in spending proposed by Gibbons because that money now pays for teacher incentives that would have been cut under the governor’s plan.

But the governor had said that money would have come from a teacher retirement credit initiative that is not working.

In his State of the State speech in January, Gibbons said the program would improve public education by giving principals more control of schools and parents more power to determine how students are taught.

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