Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Nevada’s schools could miss out on up to $175 million because Gov. Jim Gibbons hasn’t taken action to make the state eligible for the Education Department’s Race to the Top grant program.
The federal program requires states to use test scores as one tool in evaluating teachers, but Nevada law outlaws the practice. School officials had hoped Gibbons would call the Legislature into a special session to change the law before a Jan. 19 deadline for the program’s first round of funding.
Lawmakers have worked with the teachers unions to come up with a plan for new legislation. But Gibbons declined to call a special session, citing cost. He said he didn’t want to spend the estimated $100,000 that a one-day session would cost because there wasn’t a guarantee that Nevada would receive a grant from the Education Department. The federal program is competitive, and by his actions, Gibbons guaranteed that Nevada wouldn’t receive anything. That was shortsighted, considering that the cost of a special session is small compared with the potential return — the state would have been eligible for between $60 million and $175 million.
The governor has since said that the topic would be on the agenda for a special session next year before the June 1 deadline to apply for the final round of funding. Meanwhile, his office has been trying to spin the governor’s failure to call a special session, saying that the delay is really no big deal.
In a recent e-mail to two key lawmakers, Gibbons’ aide Stacy Woodbury said the state is “not missing any funding opportunities” because it can only receive funding once under the program. Nevermind that Nevada would be better served if it applied in January because, if it didn’t win, it would have a chance to gain feedback and retool its application — and improve its chances — in the final round.
The governor’s lack of leadership on issues such as education has been maddening. While he is making penny-wise decisions, student achievement still falls below the national average, which is no surprise. Nevada has not provided sufficient funding or support for education. Gibbons’ failure to call a special session is symptomatic of his “leadership.” For example, he tried to gut the higher education budget this year and now demands that the state’s colleges and universities cut more.
Education is a vital component to any state, and Nevada has been poorly served by leaders like Gibbons who want to push off problems for another day. Changing the law to meet the Race to the Top program should have been a simple matter. Until there is strong leadership in Carson City, Nevada’s schools will never achieve as they should.