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Nevada loses out in race to top funds for education


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: Nevada failed to make the cut today in its quest to win as much as $175 million in competitive federal funds to improve student achievement, but the details of why won’t be known until next month.

The failure to make the cut occurred even though Gov. Jim Gibbons created a blue ribbon panel to oversee the application process and the state hired a consultant to help finalize Nevada’s grant application.

Nineteen of 36 states made the cut in this, the second round of a competition for a share of the Race to the Top funds. Nevada did not compete in the first round earlier this year.

There was some political bickering over whether Nevada should have applied in the first round, with Democrats pushing for the submission of an application and Gibbons calling such a move premature. Only two states were awarded funds in the first round.

Ray Bacon, a member of the Blue Ribbon Education Reform Task Force and executive director of the Nevada Manufacturers Association, said those working on the Nevada application were aware that the state would score poorly for efforts already under way to improve student achievement.

Members of the panel were hoping the honesty of Nevada’s grant application, which acknowledged serious problems with the state’s educational system, would have helped the state make the cut, he said.

“We haven’t done anything in years,” Bacon said. “We thought the other parts were strong enough that they would pull it up and we might get the benefit of the doubt.”

The expenditure of $40,000 to hire a consultant to help finalize Nevada’s application was worthwhile because it radically improved the final document, he said.

Bacon said he is surprised at some of the states that were successful, including California, New Jersey, Hawaii and South Carolina.

“A lot of them I was expecting,” he said. “I would be surprised if there isn’t grant money given to Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts. Those were clearly pretty damn good applications the first time around.”

Bacon said the state could still benefit from the funding effort if there is a third round of the competition. Another option is to take the application to private foundations to see if there is interest in funding some elements of the plan, he said.

The application will also be a focus of the upcoming Nevada Legislature, where education reform and student achievement will be a top concern, he said.

“I’m disappointed but I think it is going to make this next legislative session considerably more interesting,” Bacon said. “There is nobody in the state who doesn’t recognize we need to make some changes and they have to be pretty damn drastic.”

One issue that became clear in the application process is that no one is in charge of public education in Nevada, he said.

“We’re going to come out of this with someone being in charge,” Bacon said.

Gibbons said the task force will continue in its efforts to improve student achievement even without Nevada making it into the Race to the Top finalists.

“We appreciate the opportunity the Race to the Top competition gave us to take a long, hard and much overdue look at educating Nevada’s children,” he said. “The time is now to modernize the way we deliver education in our schools, both to secure the future of our children and grandchildren and to develop an educated and skilled workforce necessary to diversify our economy and generate economic recovery and prosperity. Education is the intellectual infrastructure for Nevada’s future.”

Among the recommendations set forth in Nevada’s Promise are five specifically-targeted objectives to be accomplished by 2014:

1) increasing the graduation rate to 85 percent;
2) reducing the achievement gap for African American and Hispanic students;
3) increasing the number of graduates enrolling in post-secondary institutions both in-state or out-of-state by 50 percent;
4) increasing student achievement percentages of students proficient or advanced on the NAEP fourth-grade mathematics (from 32 percent to 50 percent) and eighth-grade mathematics (from 25 percent to 50 percent); and
5) increasing student achievement percentages of students proficient or advanced on the NAEP fourth-grade reading (from 24 percent to 50 percent) and eighth-grade reading (from 22 percent to 50 percent).

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the finalists at an event today in Washington, DC.

“As you know, we have $3.4 billion to distribute under Race to the Top – which should be enough to fund up to about 12 states,” he said. “But as I have said many times before, this isn’t just about the money. This is about working together and putting the needs of children ahead of everyone else.

“This entire process has moved the nation and advanced education reform,” Duncan said. “Children are the big winners here because we have all learned so much more about how to find common ground around the things that we know will make a difference in the classroom.”

In a letter to governors, Duncan congratulated the winners, and applauded others for applying for a share of the grant funds and encouraged the states to continue to work on education reform.

A total of 46 states and the District of Columbia applied for either the first or second rounds or both.

The 19 finalists in this second round are: Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

The award winners, as well as the complete scorecards for all applicants, will be made public later this year.


audio clips:

Ray Bacon says Nevada’s application was weak on existing reform efforts:

072710Bacon1 :21 of the doubt.”

Bacon says Nevada won’t know details of why the application did not make the cut until next month:

072710Bacon2 :15 that in detail.”

Bacon says the application can be used to pursue private foundation funding:

072710Bacon3 :23 on specific parts.”

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