Nevada schools for Nevadans

Gov. Jim Gibbons says if he has to call the Nevada Legislature into special session to deal with falling state revenues and their impact on state services, he’ll also ask them to repeal a state law prohibiting the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. The legislature should ignore the governor’s request.

Neither Nevada nor any other state should change their education policies, tailored to local needs, and replace them with one-size-fits-all national requirements that reflect the federal schools fad of the moment. There was good reason for the Nevada law when it was enacted six years ago, and there is good reason for it now. Moreover, policies that are supposed to be enduring should not be changed in reaction to temporary problems like the recession.

Federal school policies have been an unending fiasco for the states since the feds started getting involved in the education field in the 1950s and ’60s.

Indeed, the Nevada law gave our state some protection from the harmful No Child Left Behind law that was the education centerpiece of George W. Bush’s administration.

As two California teachers, one of them a state teacher of the year, recently wrote, “The overemphasis on testing does not enhance educational quality, but instead will promote schooling that leaves too many of our children underprepared for higher education, unskilled at critical thinking and less engaged in their communities. Parents and business leaders consistently say they want us to develop in students the types of skills least valued in a test-driven educational atmosphere.”

Teachers make easy targets, but we expected better from a Democratic president and Congress.

A recent Las Vegas newspaper story on this matter was headlined, “For shot at a jackpot, state must ante up, alter law.” In fact, we’re not talking about a jackpot, just a trickle of funds that will come from the federal “Race to the Top” program.

Nevada stands to gain up to $200 million—though possibly much less—from the program by changing its schools policy. That sounds like a lot, but in the Nevada budget, it’s not. In fact, for years this state has been forced to comply with foolish federal education mandates and gotten very little for it. The money received has never been more than a single digit percent of the state’s schools spending, and that has usually been in the low single digits. For that matter, the entire “Race to the Top” pot is only $4.35 billion—a tiny fraction of the amount states and local school districts spend. Why should Congress be able to dictate education policies when it provides only a pittance in school money?

We are hearing a lot in the run-up to next year’s elections about how Nevada enjoys influence in Washington, D.C., because of the power of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. Now is the time for him to prove it, by protecting his home state from this screwy requirement.

In the 1950s and ’60s, federal aid to education was a Democratic initiative. It has now been joined by GOP geniuses like Gibbons. That doesn’t make it bipartisan. It just makes it a disaster with a broader base. Rather than expanding federal education mandates, Congress should be repealing them.

Students should come first, and submitting to more federal mandates that subvert local policies will only damage them.