Rory Reid unveils plan for education reform

Gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid on Monday shared his vision for reforming Nevada’s underperforming education system.

One conservative education analyst already gives the Democrat’s plan high marks.

The 23-page plan calls for more authority in the hands of principals and individual schools and a system of teacher and student evaluation that’s based on improvement over the course of an academic year.

Reid says principals should have the authority to schedule the length of the school day, set staffing levels and priorities, and make purchasing decisions.

Reid called the plan Economic Development through Great Education, or EDGE, and said that if elected he would apply the plan to all Nevada schools.

"While other states dabble in reform, we will have real reform," the candidate said.

In promoting the plan, Reid criticized Nevada’s graduation rate of 47 percent and state cuts to education spending of $300 million in the past three years.

Reid also took a shot at Republican candidates for governor during a campaign speech introducing his plan to supporters, Democratic leaders and parents at Bracken Elementary School, near Washington and Eastern avenues.

"Every other candidate proposes more cuts to education," Reid said. "They’ll never have the courage to fundamentally change our schools."

Reid is trailing Republican Brian Sandoval in statewide polls, including one that shows voters favor Sandoval 51 percent to 29 percent in a theoretical general election match.

Incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons, a Republican, trails Sandoval in primary polls. Statewide, voters say they would prefer Reid to Gibbons 42 percent to 38 percent, which suggests Reid would benefit if Gibbons manages to defeat Sandoval in the June 8 primary.

The calls for more freedom and accountability at the individual school level appealed to conservatives who looked at the plan.

"It actually looks really good," said Patrick Gibbons, education policy analyst at the conservative, anti-tax Nevada Policy Research Institute. "I think Rory Reid has accurately identified the problems facing education in Nevada."

Gibbons said at first glance Reid appears to want to "create a real market in education."

Sandoval, like Reid, said he wants more accountability and choice in education and challenged Reid to explain how he would pay for it.

"I’ve been talking about it for months," Sandoval said. "The difference is, he refuses to say how he’ll pay for the rest of his plan."

Reid says the plan, which proposes performance incentives for teachers, wouldn’t increase the size of the state budget.

"I developed this plan in the context of our current economy and it is budget neutral," Reid said.

Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, said he likes parts of the plan but will remain skeptical until he sees more details.

"If the details don’t come out right, it can go exactly in the wrong direction," he said.

Cobb, one of the most conservative members of the Legislature, is running for state Senate. If he wins, he could be influential in the next session of the Legislature.

"If (Reid) is to be believed in the core principles he is mentioning, that is something that will get a very good reception from Republicans," said Cobb. "He would have to stand firm against the unions who never want any type of accountability."

For example, Cobb said incentives for good teacher performance are fine but Reid needs to identify how he thinks schools should handle poor teacher performance.

"You also need the punishment on the other end of the spectrum for people who don’t perform," he said.

Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, was skeptical Nevada could accomplish significant reform without increasing the amount of money it spends on schools, which could require increasing taxes on a public that is reluctant to pay more.

Warne says giving individual principals more power to make spending decisions will help schools but isn’t enough.

"Is that going to solve all that ails public schools in Nevada? I don’t think so. I don’t think Mr. Reid does either," said Warne, whose group has endorsed Reid’s candidacy.

She was doubtful there is enough money to achieve effective reform through spending cuts alone.

"I don’t believe there is any bloated bureaucracy out there," Warne said.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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