Nevada Law Blocks Stimulus Education Funds

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Nevada is ineligible to compete for millions of dollars in stimulus education funding because of a state law pushed by the teachers union.

The law prohibits student achievement data from being used in teacher evaluations. That means the state isn't eligible to enter the Obama administration's Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion competition for states trying to turn around failing schools.

State superintendent Keith Rheault says Nevada won't apply for the first round of funding because of the law, which would need a special legislative session to change.

"If you're desperate for money and you get a credit card offer in the mail, you read the fine print to see what the interest rate is," Rheault said. "This to me is like a 35 percent interest rate, with all the federal reporting requirements and changes to regulations. But it just depends on how desperate you are for the money."

The state can still work to resolve other issues in time for the second phase of funding, Rheault said.

Rheault said changing the state law would not immediately make the state eligible for the federal funds because the competition requires states to have increased education funding between 2008 and 2009 and Nevada had to cut its funding. The state would also have to dedicate money for after the stimulus funds ran out.

Rheault said the requirements for the competitive funding may soon become standard requirements for federal education money, meaning Nevada would have to change its laws regardless.

The Nevada State Education Association has fought against linking student achievement data such as test scores to teacher evaluations. The union is not backing off that stance for a chance at the stimulus education funds, said Lynn Warne, president of the NSEA.

"(The money) isn't a poke in the eye, but it is not going to help what ails Nevada schools," Warne said. "They haven't ever funded appropriately. And I haven't ever been in favor of changing state statute for one-shot, one-time, maybe money."

Dan Burns, a spokesman for Gov. Jim Gibbons, said it wouldn't make sense to have a special session just to change the education law, but the issue could be added to the agenda if a special session is called for other reasons.

The law was added during a special session called in 2003 to resolve a stalemate over taxes.

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