Las Vegas Sun

February 28, 2024

Harry Reid, governor trade jabs over loss of education funding

Senator, enmeshed in tight campaign, lashes out at Gibbons for loss


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Gov. Jim Gibbons should have called a special session of the Legislature to change state law so Nevada could beat the January deadline to apply for the first round of Race to the Top funding. The Republican countered that Reid “never lifted a finger to help us while we applied for these special federal funds for education.”

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Minutes after news broke that Nevada was not among the 19 states to qualify for millions of dollars in federal education grants, Sen. Harry Reid cast blame for the state’s failure on Gov. Jim Gibbons, the unpopular lame-duck Republican.

The accusatory news release was a sign that Nevada’s shortcoming in the “Race to the Top” education competition wasn’t just bad for Nevada’s poorly ranked K-12 system. The Senate majority leader’s hair-trigger finger-pointing signaled it might also be bad for his re-election bid.

Any snub, real or perceived, by the feds against Nevada — President Barack Obama telling bailout recipients not to blow cash in Las Vegas, the city’s failure to secure stimulus money for communities dealing with foreclosures — has the potential to undercut Reid’s key campaign message, that he is the best person to deliver for Nevada.

Reid argued Tuesday that Gibbons should have called a special session to change state law clearing the way for Nevada to apply for the first round of funding. To receive up to $160 million intended to spur education reform nationwide, states must allow teachers to be evaluated based on students’ test scores, which was prohibited in Nevada. (The Legislature changed the law to allow such evaluations during February’s special session.)

Out of the 19 states to qualify Tuesday, 17 had submitted a bid during that first round of applications, which were due in January. Those states received feedback, which they used to sharpen their second-round applications.

But the blame game can always be played by both sides. The law that prevented Nevada from applying in the first place — the ban on using students’ test scores to evaluate teachers — was passed in 2003 with the backing of the state’s teachers union, which supports Reid.

Gibbons resisted calling a special session before the first-round deadline. The teachers union also initially opposed changing that law.

State Sen. Steven Horsford was the only elected official to call for a one-day special session for the purpose of applying for the grants. He did so in December, ahead of the January deadline.

But by then most Nevada education officials had given up, saying it was too late for the state to compete in Round One.

Gibbons’ Deputy Chief of Staff Stacy Woodbury explained Tuesday the governor’s decision not to apply for Round One: “We weren’t ready. It took time to develop a comprehensive plan to detail reform. It was an exercise that needed to be done.”

Even though Nevada didn’t win, Woodbury said the plan assembled by a task force of educators, businesspeople and teachers will still serve as a blueprint for education reform.

Higher education Chancellor Dan Klaich, who co-chaired the task force with gaming executive Elaine Wynn, said he thought the state’s application was “awesome.”

“The application brought together disparate people, with conflicting views, bound together with the goal to improve education,” he said. “It was an impressive piece of work.” He said it should be considered by the next governor and Legislature for education reforms.

He added: “There’s no time to engage in finger-pointing on why we were not chosen as a finalist for this money. We didn’t win. A lot of other states didn’t either.”

While Woodbury agreed that the state shouldn’t spend time assigning blame, the Gibbons administration put out a news release later in the day responding to Reid.

Gibbons said it was Reid who failed Nevada. It said Reid “never lifted a finger to help us while we applied for these special federal funds for education.”

Reid spokesman Jon Summers provided a copy of a letter Reid sent to Education Secretary Arne Duncan in May, supporting Nevada’s application.

“At the end of the day, this was something decided by a panel of three judges. It was not a political decision,” Summers said.

When asked if Reid’s accusation against Gibbons was driven by his competitive re-election race, Summers said, “If people like Gibbons and (GOP U.S. Senate candidate Sharron) Angle had their way, we would not have Race to the Top funding in the first place, because they would eliminate the Department of Education.”

Sun reporter Emily Richmond contributed to this story.

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