Gibbons Hears School Officials' Concerns On Federal Mandates

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State and local school officials urged the federal government Monday to allow flexibility as they try to meet educational standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Top educators representing 12 Nevada school districts and state school officials met in a closed meeting here with Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., and two U.S. Department of Education officials to discuss problems in meeting the mandates set out in the law signed by President Bush two years ago.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to show annual progress or face sanctions. Schools must show overall gains and improvement within groups of students, such as those measured by ethnicity, income, nonnative English speakers and special education status.

Gibbons said one of the biggest concerns voiced by school officials is how to meet the requirements for special needs students and those with limited skills in English.

"Special needs students ... present a unique challenge to any school district," Gibbons said during a short break in the two-hour meeting. "Nevada is no different.

"But our rural areas are probably a little more challenged," he said.

Nevada districts face an array of problems, he said, from keeping pace with rapid population growth in Clark County to attracting qualified teachers to rural areas.

A report issued earlier this month by state Superintendent Jack McLaughlin said 40 percent of Nevada's public schools didn't make adequate progress or are in need of improvement.

Parents of students in schools that fail to make the grade for two consecutive years can request their children be sent to a better achieving school.

Despite Nevada's latest school rankings, Gibbons said he thinks the state is "way out ahead" in meeting the requirements.

"We have set standards," he said. "There can be no excuses."

Gibbons, who in July proposed an initiative that would require the Nevada Legislature to fund public education before other state programs, also defended the federal government's funding of the No Child Left Behind Act.

"The federal government is trying to make the legislation a funded mandate," he said. Nevada is to receive $102 million this year from the federal government to implement the law, he said.

Gibbons said he will try to raise more money for education by increasing the percentage of proceeds earmarked from government land sales in Southern Nevada from 5 percent to 30 percent. Gibbons announced last week that he is writing legislation to change the 1998 Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act and wants to hold a congressional hearing in Las Vegas before the end of the year to gather public comment.