Education committee recommends changes with eye on budget

The Legislative Committee on Education requested legislation Tuesday to change a variety of laws in hopes of improving Nevada's public schools.

But several of the most expensive proposals on the list were left behind in recognition of the state's budget crunch -- including a request for $35 million for educational technology grants to the 17 school districts.

But the panel headed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, did support a bill to continue remedial education and tutoring programs for students who need the help to meet proficiency requirements. The program will cost the state $6.75 million each fiscal year.

The committee also backed funding for regional professional development programs for teachers and the Nevada Early Literacy Intervention Program although, recognizing the budget situation, they asked the funding for those two programs be combined to reduce the total cost originally estimated at more than $10 million a year.

Despite the warnings of Debbie Cahill of the Nevada State Education Association, the committee voted to require school districts pay math and science teachers 5 percent more than other educators. Those specialties have proven difficult to fill and school districts are asking for help to attract good teachers. She guaranteed lawmakers the other teachers would want their specialties increased as well.

The committee rejected the $8.64 million proposal by Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas, to create a class system of teachers ranging from probationary teachers to mentors and master teachers who would earn up to double what their counterparts get paid.

The committee agreed to support reimbursing teachers up to $2,300 apiece of the costs incurred in gaining certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

At the suggestion of Ray Bacon of the Nevada Manufacturers Association, the panel voted to expand alternative routes to a teacher's license for those already holding a bachelor's degree or higher in a specific subject area. The plan would try to encourage those professionals, including retired people, into teaching by giving them an intensive six- to eight-week intensive seminar in classroom management and other skills needed by teachers.

Bacon has argued for several years there are skilled professionals out there who might be interested in teaching if they didn't have to go through so many hoops at the university to get a license.

The teachers union opposed the idea saying there is more to being a good teacher than knowing the subject matter and that those in the classroom need training in teaching and classroom management.

The committee voted to support buying laptop computers for disadvantaged students to use at home and installation of broadband Internet connections for all schools. They supported allowing school districts to expand access to community college and independent study classes for gifted students and to permit early admission to kindergarten or first grade for those who are ready before the mandatory age.

And, contingent on estimates of the cost, they voted to allow school districts to spread class-size reduction funding across all elementary school grades with student-teacher ratios up to 25 in each class rather than the 15 -to-1 ratio now allowed in first and second grades and the 19-to-1 now in third.

The alternative to that would be to implement full-day kindergarten.

Raggio said whether the recommendation goes forward would depend on estimates of the budget required.

Most of the recommendations will be included in proposed legislation for the 2003 Legislature. The details of the proposals will be debated at the committee's next meeting.


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