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August 28, 2015

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Nevada Territory

Education reform bills split Democrats, pass Assembly

Assembly Democrats on Monday split over a pair of major education bills that would make it easier to fire teachers and extend the probationary period for new hires from one year to three years, which advanced despite opposition from the state teacher's union, a traditional and powerful Democratic ally.

Republicans joined the Assembly leadership in passing Assembly bills 225 and 229. Eight Democrats voted against one bill, nine Democrats voted against the other bill.

AB 225 would require that a teacher or administrator who receives unsatisfactory evaluations for two consecutive years be placed back on probationary status.

AB 229 would make a number of changes, including:

• School districts would switch from a binary “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory” evaluation system for teachers and administrators to a four-tiered system of “highly effective,” “effective,” “minimally effective” or “ineffective.”

* Allowing teachers to be suspended, dismissed or fired for “gross misconduct.”

• Change the probationary period from one year to three years.

• Require districts to implement a plan to pay teachers for performance.

Both bills will now go over to the state Senate.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, compared this to “landmark legislation” passed in other states, like Colorado. Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said it would help reward good teachers and make it easier for ineffective teachers to seek improvement or force them to find a new line of work.

The bill was fought from the left, but also called a “tiny baby step” by Republicans, who want so-called education reforms to go further before they consider raising taxes.

Smith spent more than a year holding education discussions with business groups, school districts, teacher’s unions and reformers.

“Only a handful of states have passed bills like this,” she said.

The teacher’s union had been negotiating to reach a compromise, but ultimately was against the bill.

“Quite honestly we believe this is anti-union legislation dressed up as education reform,” said Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association. “It takes away workers' rights ... Basically, the newest workers in the profession are at-will employees.”

On the opposite side, Republicans said this was only the beginning of reforms that should pass this session.

“This is a tiny baby step in where we need to go,” said Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks.

Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, said, “This body now has put its foot in the pool of reform and found the water just fine.”

Assembly Republicans have issued a list of five areas where they want to see traditionally conservative changes to law, one of them being education. In exchange for that, the caucus leader said, they would consider extending about $600 million in higher taxes that are set to expire, or “sunset,” starting July 1.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has promised to veto any tax increase, and doubled down last week by declaring he wouldn’t trade taxes for anything. Democrats and school officials have criticized the cuts to education as too severe. His budget calls for a 10 to 12 percent cut to teachers' salaries.

The Assembly Democratic caucus met for more than an hour behind closed doors before the vote. Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said there is no great rift in the caucus over the bills.

“I don’t think there’s a split as far as concept goes - we all want more accountability, a better process, more oversight,” he said. But “there are definitely limits to where Democrats are willing to go. Maybe you saw that today.”

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