School Empowerment Plans Debated

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Rival Democrat and Republican plans for school "empowerment," including GOP Gov. Jim Gibbons' $60 million proposal for localized decision-making in public schools, were reviewed Monday by a state Senate panel.

Lawmakers from both parties agreed during a Senate Human Resources and Education Committee hearing that there's plenty of room for compromise on the policy details of the competing programs, saying they have more similarities than differences.

Both programs decentralize much of the authority that currently rests with districts down to the school level, and give school principals control over nearly all of a school's budget.

Empowerment schools also would have authority over hiring and firing staff, and be able to implement pay incentives. They also allow children zoned for other schools the opportunity to apply to an empowerment school.

But the two sides differed over several key issues, particularly the $60 million in proposed spending under the governor's program.

Sen. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, pressing for the Democratic proposal, said he wouldn't compromise on the funding because the $60 million now pays for teacher incentives that would be cut under Gibbons' plan. He said the incentives need to be changed, but not eliminated.

Jodi Stephens, representing the governor, cited schools in San
Francisco, Seattle, and Canada that improved student performance
after implementing empowerment programs.

"Empowerment takes site-based management for districts and schools a step further by providing flexibility to create a plan which is relevant to their students," said Stephens.

In his presentation, Horsford emphasized that offering schools more autonomy in their budgeting should be considered just one element of a comprehensive education package.

"Empowerment is not a silver bullet," said Horsford. "It is one bold move that should be followed by other bold actions," including supporting full-day kindergarten, increasing teacher salaries, and spending more on career and technical education.

The best part of empowerment is that it motivates entire communities, including businesses, parents, and school workers, to participate in deciding how to run their schools, said Horsford.

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