By Andrew Doughman, Nevada News Bureau: Gov. Brian Sandoval has said before that he can reform Nevada’s education system while still reducing the budget allotted to the state’s K-12 system.
But the cost of several of his proposals drew opposition at a legislative hearing today.
Assembly Bills 554 and 557 would establish a $20 million pot of merit pay for teachers, allow for open enrollment at schools regardless of geographic boundary, give letter grades to schools and end the policy of social promotion.
Representatives from the school districts of Clark and Washoe counties said the reforms, while laudable, required more money than Sandoval has budgeted for.
Joyce Haldeman of the Clark County School District said that pay for performance – basically, a system of awarding bonuses to good teachers – comes at the expense of cuts to programs like class-size reduction and full-day kindergarten.
“Without the resources, this bill is a difficult task for the school districts,” said Craig Hulse of the Washoe County School District.
On the issue of social promotion, legislators asked about the costs and how many students could be held back under the proposal.
Social promotion is a policy whereby students jump from grade to grade regardless of how much they learn each year.
Ending that policy would mean students who cannot read at grade level may be held back, or face summer school or other remediation. These extra programs could potentially cost the state money.
Dale Erquiaga, Sandoval’s senior adviser, said he did not have an estimate of how many students would be affected.
He did, however, criticize the state’s current policy, saying it leads students to failure.
“Unfortunately it causes critical failure later in the system,” Erquiaga said. “They’re going to fail, they’re going to drop out, they will not graduate later in life.”
Legislators on the Assembly Education committee considering the bills usually debate the policy measures of bills. But during this budget-conscious session, money seems like a difficult issue to avoid.
Craig Stevens of the Nevada State Education Association argued against the merit pay bill not for its policy, but because of the context surrounding the bill.
He said it was wrong to cut the pay teachers currently receive for the years they have worked and the advanced degrees they have attained – totals for which run into the hundreds of millions – and replace that with $20 million in merit pay.
The open enrollment and letter grade sections of the bills were not as controversial. Ken Turner of the Clark County School District, however, said that the school district opposes grading schools with letter grades because that system is too simplistic.
The committee did not yet vote on the bills, instead cutting the meeting short and ending at 8 p.m.