Nevada lawmakers Wednesday passed a bill lifting a roadblock to Nevada’s eligibility for competitive federal education grants.
SB2 was approved in the Senate on a 16-5 vote, with four Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio voting with the Democratic majority. The bill was immediately referred to the Assembly, where it was approved unanimously, 42-0.
The bill removes 15 words from state law that banned student tests scores from being used in teacher evaluations. The law had made Nevada ineligible to apply for President Obama’s “race to the top” education grants, designed to spur innovation in the classroom.
Critics objected to 31 new words inserted to clarify that test scores can’t be used as the “sole criteria” in teacher evaluations or disciplinary actions, language inserted at the urging of the teachers union.
Critics said the additional language could jeopardize the state’s chances of receiving up to $175 million in federal grants, and Gov. Jim Gibbons, who only included the education grant issue to his special session proclamation earlier Wednesday, threatened to veto it.
State education officials and teacher groups defended the new language, saying showing a collaborative effort among employee groups would make Nevada’s grant application that must stronger.
Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, worried “adding the additional stuff” could endanger Nevada’s chance in the competitive application process.
Raggio agreed, but voted for the bill “reluctantly” because he said the additional funding was essential.
The Assembly on Wednesday also raised their hands in an informal show of support to try to reduce education cuts to 5 percent, half the percentage Gibbons has called for to reconcile a $900 million budget shortfall.
Speaker Barbara Buckley told Assembly members she will query them from the floor on priorities during the special session to resolve the budget issue.
She said she needs “to know where people are going to land” as legislative leaders plot a budget plan.
Democrats are trying to negotiate more fees from the state’s mining, casino and business groups to soften the blow to public schools, higher education and social services.
Public schools would lose about $170 million in the next fiscal year under the governor’s proposal, and school administrators have said thousands of teachers would likely lose their jobs.
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