Lawmakers vote to take education stimulus

Lawmakers studying the education budgets voted Wednesday to accept nearly $70 million in federal stimulus money for low-income schools and special education.

The state can claim another

$70 million during the coming biennium for those two programs if it meets requirements outlined in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

This funding is in addition to the $394 million in stimulus money for K-12 and higher education. The state still is working out how to meet requirements that $267 million, taking it to 2006 levels, be restored to the university system in order to qualify.

A total of $35 million for Title 1 schools " those with a high percentage of low income or limited English proficiency students " was approved Wednesday. Members of the joint Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means subcommittee were told the stimulus package language encourages those schools to use the money for innovative programs that improve

student performance.

Superintendent of Education Keith Rheault told lawmakers the federal legislation specifically permits school districts to decide how to spend the money " which didn't sit well with legislators who made it clear they want a say in how the cash is spent.

"I actually think the state has a role here," said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. "A role in the allocation of these dollars, what they're used for and the outcomes."

He also called for public hearings on the use of the cash and for a meeting with school officials from around the state, saying the money is an opportunity to make improvements Nevada can't afford to miss or mess up.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, called for a letter of intent to the school districts urging the money be used in creative ways and for such things as extending after-school programs in Title 1 schools.

The same discussion was raised when the subcommittee voted to accept stimulus money dedicated to special education. The first year's grant totals $34.75 million with another $34.75 million available for 2011.

The money can be used to cover supplemental costs of education disabled children, teacher training and monitoring.

Rheault said like the Title 1 money, the special education cash is a pass through for the state with the districts deciding how to spend it. But he assured lawmakers his staff will be keeping close tabs on how all the money is spent to ensure it now only results in improvements in the education of those children but helps the state and the districts qualify for the additional $70 million total grant money available the second year of the biennium.

Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.

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