It's Democrats vs. GOP at dueling press conferences on education

Assembly Democrats and Republicans held dueling press conferences Monday to highlight their proposals for improving public education in Nevada.

Democrats led by Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, of Las Vegas, called for all-day kindergarten for all Nevada schools, high school reform and pay for performance for teachers along with a state lottery to boost education funding.

Republicans led by Garn Mabey, of Las Vegas, said they don't oppose statewide all-day kindergarten but believe Nevada can get more bang for the buck by pumping what money it can afford this year into middle and high school improvements. And he argued Gov. Jim Gibbons' empowerment proposal is better because it allows different schools to use their money in different ways to meet their particular needs - including, if they believe that's the best option, all-day kindergarten.

The partisan divide on education is becoming the big stumbling block for the 2007 Legislature. Republicans have the majority in the Senate but Democrats have control in the Assembly - which means the two parties have to find some compromise to pass any education plan.

Thus far, however, there are no indications the two sides are talking seriously about how to resolve the disagreement.

Buckley said all-day kindergarten is a proven success in many other parts of the country and would significantly improve student achievement in Nevada.

Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, said empowerment creates flexibility, which would better serve the diverse school populations in Nevada.

"The concept of one-size-fits-all does not work in education," she said.

Assembly Education Chairwoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson City, a former teacher, said Democrats aren't forgetting the older students either. She said AB212 proposes "a new way to look at high schools" by creating a "school within a school" for 9th graders heading to large high schools so they don't get lost amid thousands of older students.

She said it also requires a four-year graduation plan for students and brings counselors, teachers and parents together to develop that plan. Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Las Vegas, also a former teacher, said the numbers show Nevada fourth graders ahead of national averages but dropping below that level of achievement by seventh grade and farther below by 10th grade.

He said it makes more sense to focus on middle and high school - including offering more career and technical opportunities.

Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said her bill would create a $30 million fund to provide performance pay for good teachers.

Mabey expressed concern about the difficulty in fairly determining which teachers deserve the bonus money. And he said teachers he has talked to oppose the idea.

Democrats Harry Mortenson and Ruben Kihuen, of Las Vegas, said they will try again to get a constitutional amendment to allow a state lottery with the proceeds going to education. Kihuen said it could raise up to $50 million for schools.

Mabey said some members of the Republican caucus support that but he does not because he believes lotteries take their money from those in society who can least afford it.

Hearings are scheduled throughout the next couple of weeks on different proposals for improving Nevada's public schools.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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