- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Lawmakers discussed a Republican-sponsored education bill Wednesday that would overhaul the Nevada’s class-size reduction program and launch an incentive pay system to pay the top teachers up to $200,000 a year.

Assembly members Vicki Dooling and Shelly Shelton are sponsoring AB378, which would repeal a program that provides funding to keep class sizes small and costs the state about $177 million a year. The sponsors proposed an amendment that would give districts flexibility to use that money for either class size reduction or other programs that support student achievement.

Supporters, including Patrick Gavin of the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority, said the data on whether a smaller class size improves student performance “is equivocal at best,” and districts might have more efficient uses for the money.

Opponents included superintendents from Washoe, Clark and Douglas county school districts, who pointed to their personal experiences in the classroom and said students benefited from more individualized attention, especially while they’re learning to read or coming from a disadvantaged background.

“Class size matters,” Washoe County Interim Superintendent Traci Davis said.

AB378 comes after an audit released in December found flaws in the way the Nevada Department of Education administers class size reduction funding. Districts weren’t telling the state how they planned to use the money, and state officials didn’t communicate their expectations about class sizes to districts, the auditors said.

“This increases the risk that funds will not be used as intended,” the auditors wrote.

The bill would also create a Fund for Master Teachers and offer incentives for exemplary performance. Teachers in the program would make $150,000 to $200,000 a year, and mentor educators in at-risk schools.

“I want to be able to keep the good teachers that we have,” Shelton said. “What you learn in the business world is when you have good employees, you pay them a retainer.”

Andrew Diss of the education advocacy group StudentsFirst Nevada said the program would attract top professionals to teaching and help keep them.

Opponents included the Nevada State Education Association, which said it seemed unfair that the merit pay would include only the top 5 percent of teachers. Union President Ruben Murillo said that wouldn’t encompass the high number of highly effective teachers in the state.

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