- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - A plan to create a scholarship program and a series of bonuses to tackle Nevada’s severe teacher shortage cleared its first hurdles Wednesday, with supporters saying the measure is critical to the success of other major education initiatives in the works.

The Senate voted to approve SB511, a $15 million bill that Gov. Brian Sandoval introduced last week just days before the legislative session ends. The move comes after some lawmakers cited the shortage as a reason they didn’t want to support Sandoval’s multimillion-dollar proposed investments in English language learners, students in poverty and other at-risk groups.

“Those initiatives will fail if we don’t address the teacher shortage,” state Superintendent Dale Erquiaga said at a hearing before the full Senate on Wednesday. “That conversation has gotten louder as the session has gone on.”

The measure, which senators lauded as “wonderful” and “groundbreaking,” is now headed to the Assembly.

The bill creates the Teach Nevada Scholarship program, which offers up to $3,000 per semester for students studying education or completing a licensing program and could serve more than 200 future teachers over the next two years. They would get three-quarters of the scholarship while they’re in school, and would get the balance of the award after teaching in Nevada for five years.

The bill also proposes $5,000 bonuses for 2,000 new teachers over the next two years, with the aim of filling teaching positions in at-risk schools. Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson vowed to try and apply even more funding to the program than Sandoval proposed.

Clark County School District alone is trying to hire about 2,600 new teachers for next school year. Education officials say low starting pay, difficult working conditions and high demand nationwide is complicating their task.

Democratic Sen. Pat Spearman also argued that a general lack of respect for the teaching profession has made it difficult to recruit and retain teachers.

“There is still in an underlying narrative that vilifies all teachers,” Spearman said. “We’re going to solve some of this, I hope, with this bill. But it is also my hope that we begin a culture of appreciation for those who are in education, and who have worked this long and this hard without the money to do their job.”

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