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Governor Gibbons unveils education reform plan – political rivals raise questions

By ThisIsReno

SUBMITTED NEWS RELEASE

by Sean Whaley – Nevada News Bureau

Gov. Jim Gibbons today released a plan to make sweeping changes to the state’s public education system with what he said is an eye towards giving parents and local government more control over how state tax dollars are spent educating Nevada’s children.

“This is all about choice and efficiency,” Gibbons said. “We must give more control over our children’s education to their parents and take back power from bureaucrats, unions and other officials.

“We must start asking the question, if this dollar is not spent helping a child learn, then why is it being spent,” he said.

The plan calls for eliminating a mandate for class size reduction in the lower elementary grades and for the repeal of collective bargaining for teachers and local government workers.

Gibbons is running for reelection this year but faces a strong challenge from fellow Republican candidates in the June primary. He made his announcement in Las Vegas.

The plan provoked an immediate comment from Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid, who is running for governor as a Democrat.

He said: “This is not a serious effort at education reform. It is a fundamentally flawed effort to solve a fiscal problem.”

Both Republican primary challengers, former U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval, and former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon, also raised questions about the plan.

“While I’m an advocate of school choice, expanding empowerment schools and increased parental involvement, I believe it is an extremely bad idea to be laying off hundreds of teachers in a time of record unemployment in Nevada,” Sandoval said in a statement.

The layoffs would occur if the class size reduction program was eliminated in the state’s public schools.

Montandon said the ideas are worthwhile, but he questioned the timing.

“I don’t see a problem with the content,” Montandon said. “But the timing is strange. He had a marvelous opportunity to do these things for the past several years.

“I’ve been pushing the ideas of school vouchers and merit pay for over a year,” he said. “These are not new ideas. Empowerment schools work. Vouchers work. These programs should have been put in place a long time ago.”

Gibbons’ proposals include:

  • Cut multi-level administrative bureaucracies at larger school districts.
  • Allow smaller districts to consolidate.
  • Give local school districts the ability to use their basic student support funding at their own discretion rather than have the money earmarked for specific programs.
  • Eliminate laws requiring local governments and school districts to enter into collective bargaining agreements with employees.

“Unions do nothing to help educate our children,” Gibbons said. “The unnecessary tax money expended for union negotiations and special benefits can be used in classrooms to help our children learn, not pay for union officials or promote costly and often hostile negotiations.”

– Adopt a statewide school voucher program for all parents and students to have school choice.

– Eliminate the elected state Board of Education and instead establish an advisory panel with members appointed by the governor and Legislature.

– Eliminate the requirement in Nevada law for class size reduction at the lower elementary grade levels. This alone would save $127 million in fiscal year 2011, Gibbons said.

– Eliminate a statutory requirement for full-day kindergarten. This would save another $28 million in fiscal year 2011.

“These and other proposals will save money and will pry our children’s education out of the hands of government bureaucrats and put it in the hands of parents and teachers,” Gibbons said. “These proposals will also help us through this unprecedented economic crisis.”

Gibbons is facing another year as governor with lower than expected tax revenues, the potential for severe budget cuts and an economy that includes a double-digit unemployment rate.

A special session of the Legislature to deal with these issues could come as soon as February.

Reid also questioned why Gibbons has proposed an education plan now, noting that two sessions of the Legislature have passed while he has been governor.

The plan, which Reid described as being from the “right wing playbook,” has come only now that his “back is against the wall and his political future is at risk.”

“I’m running for governor, but I’m also a parent,” he said. “I’d much rather have my child in a classroom with 19 other kids than 50 other kids. I think it is common sense that dictates that we want our classes to be as small as they can be.”

Education is critically important to diversifying the state’s workforce and creating an educated workforce for the future, Reid said.

As to the call for eliminating collective bargaining, Reid said Gibbons should work with involved parties to come to an agreement on how to solve the state’s pressing budget problems rather than calling people names.

“What we need is leadership,” he said.

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