Nevada Governor's School Plan Challenged

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Nevada Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley said Monday that she's opposed to Gov. Jim Gibbons' plan to use $60 million in teacher incentives for a pilot project giving principals more control over schools and letting parents choose the schools their children attend.

Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said that if the Republican governor wants to press his "empowerment" plan, which is based on how schools are managed in Edmonton, Can., he should do so with new funds "without robbing the incentive pool."

The speaker also said state funding for the overall K-12 school system in Nevada needs to increase and shouldn't be limited to the level proposed by Gibbons, $2.27 billion for the coming two fiscal years.

While the K-12 funding is an increase of 15.5 percent over the current two-year education budget, the dollar amount represents a slight drop in the percentage of overall state spending. It's about a third of the proposed spending total of $8.6 billion.

Buckley, Assembly Education Chairwoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson
City, and Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, the education panel's vice-chairwoman, said one way to help the K-12 budget would be to cut back a proposed 29 percent increase in the state prison system's budget over the next two years.

Asked about the concern voiced by prison administrators of a possible federal court takeover of the prisons unless major improvements are made, Buckley said the concern is legitimate but there may be less-expensive alternatives to locking people up in prison cells.

The lawmakers also said teachers should get more than the pay raises proposed by Gibbons, 2 percent next year and 4 percent the year after that. They're pushing a plan for performance bonuses, $2,000 across-the-board raises and other benefits designed to attract teachers.

Funding for full-day kindergarten also is a top priority for the Assembly Democrats, putting them at odds with Gibbons who wants to continue the full-day program only in at-risk schools.

Gibbons' "empowerment" plan is based on how schools are managed in the Edmonton Public Schools in Alberta. In that 80,000-student system, principals control their budgets, and about 92 percent of the system's $650 million general fund budget goes directly to the schools.

In Gibbons' State of the State speech, he said more control will give educators and parents more power to determine how students are taught, and that freedom will in turn increase graduation rates, parental participation and teacher recruitment.

Andrew Clinger, Gibbons' budget director, said the $60 million in incentive funds that would be used for the project was a retirement credit initiative that wasn't working, according to what school districts had told Gibbons' administration.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)