LAS VEGAS (AP) — Monte Bay hasn't heard much, but what he suspects gnaws at the back of his mind.

"I've just been hearing rumblings," said the principal of West Career and Technical Academy, an impressive high school with everything from industry-standard engineering labs to a hospital wing for students training to be certified nursing assistants.

The rumblings would be a roar if he and principals at the Clark County School District's other vocational schools knew what's proposed for the federal chopping block.

The U.S. Department of Education plans to slash state funding for career and technical education, given to states since 1984, to instead offer competitive grants. And Nevada would take the biggest hit.

The state's Perkins Grant for vocational education would be slashed 41 percent, from $8.5 million to $5 million in 2013. Arizona would face the second-largest cut, 27 percent.

The reduction, however, would be just a pinprick to 45 states, which would receive an average of 4.5 percent less. Of those states, 11 would see reductions of just 0.6 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education's plans.

"It's a ludicrous situation," said Michael Raponi, Nevada's director of Career, Technical and Adult Education, in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal (

He is working with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to persuade the U.S. Department of Education to adjust the funding cuts. It must be done before Congress adopts the budget, which will likely occur between January and March.

"Bottom line, Senator Reid has been in regular contact with the U.S. Department of Education," said Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman, adding that Reid opposes such a cut.

The department hasn't yet responded to the Senate majority leader with an alternate plan. Orthman said revisions to the Department of Education budget proposal are expected in September.

"It's certainly not a done deal," Raponi said, "but this doesn't make any sense. It's a terribly frustrating and illogical situation."

It's also a situation that could spur lawsuits. Federal grant amounts are supposed to correlate to a state's population, according to the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act. But Idaho, for example, would receive nearly $1 million more than Nevada, even though the state has about half as many people.

If it can't be stopped, there would be a "huge domino effect" for not only students at vocational schools but all high schools, Raponi said.

Nearly one out of every two Nevada high school students takes a vocational course. And those courses "heavily" rely on this money for professional equipment and keeping teachers current with industry standards.

Each program has its unique costs, such as transportation for nursing students to hospitals for their clinical hours, a minus-80-degree freezer for biological tissue or a $30,000 soil reader, Bay said of his school.

"It's all expensive," he said. "The regular budget does not pay for this."

Normal per-pupil funding only covers the basics, such as teachers' salaries and books, which works for English, social studies and math courses.

"But career and tech is not a cheap date," in the words of Michael Spangler, dean of Advanced and Applied Technologies at the College of Southern Nevada, which gets a slice of the Perkins Grant.

"We can't scale down and get 80 percent of a diesel engine," Spangler said.


Still, the expensive courses have been a worthwhile investment, said Stan Hall, the district's director of Career and Technical Education.

Career and technical students routinely do better in school, even in unrelated core subjects.

For example, only 7 percent of West Academy's incoming seniors are behind in their credits compared to 29 percent of all the district's high school seniors, according to the Nevada Department of Education's report card.

Hall commonly hears that's not impressive since vocational academies "skim off the top students," plucking them from their zoned high schools, he said. However, the district and state don't just track vocational school students, but all those who take at least one vocational course, even at regular high schools.

Last year, two-thirds of the 35,500 Clark County students in that category took vocational courses at their regular high schools and logged better results than the district's overall average, such as a 3 percent dropout rate compared to the district's 4.8 percent.

Statewide, students who took a vocational course at some point in high school attended school more often and had a higher pass rate on the reading, writing and math proficiency exams required to graduate high school.

Their graduation rate is higher and fewer drop out, according to the most recent report for 2010-11 published by the Nevada Office of Career, Technical and Adult education.

By customizing high school with vocational courses, students see the applicability of education, Spangler said. And the Perkins Grant has been the "lifeblood for these programs," he added.

Community colleges receive a quarter of Nevada's Perkins Grant, while school districts receive about 50 percent. Clark County School District teaches about three-quarters of the state's students and receives a similar portion of the grant, about $3.36 million this last school year.

If the cut occurs in 2013, Clark County would get $1.69 million in 2013-14.

Clark County also receives about $2.4 million from the state for vocational programs in addition to the Perkins money, Hall said. If the state's Perkins funding is reduced by $3.5 million, cuts at schools would inevitably ensue, all local and state parties agreed.

In Clark County schools, the cuts would be up to principals.

"I can't say what they'd do," Hall said. "But if the money isn't there to support it, schools probably won't offer it."

Clark County principals are already up against the wall, having cut 1,000 teaching positions this school year, which will increase class sizes by three students at the high school level.

Principals already have eliminated some electives because of budget shortfalls.

So, why not evenly disperse cuts to Perkins money across states, if it must be done?

Raponi has found that the federal government is still allocating the usual $1.1 billion for state grants. But it is setting aside $105.5 million for competitive grants, which lowers the guaranteed grant amount for states below the 1998 level. That triggers a section of the Perkins Act, which resets funding to 1998 levels.

That punishes states like Nevada, Arizona and Florida, which experienced population booms over the past 14 years and received dramatic grant increases. Nevada's population was 1.7 million then and now stands at 2.7 million, making it the fastest growing state in the nation, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and Nevada Bureau of Health Planning and Statistics.

If just a few million dollars less is earmarked for the competitive grants, the trigger won't be tripped, Raponi said.


Yet, there is a silver lining for Clark County.

The district is trying a cheaper way of providing vocational courses, starting with aviation operations, horticulture, welding and air conditioning. Those programs were threatened at high schools because of their costs and hard-to-fill teaching positions.

Spangler stepped in and offered to take 80 high school students from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. daily, putting them in CSN's correlating programs at the college's Henderson campus. For the trial run, students from nearby Basic, Boulder City, Silverado and Foothill high schools could apply.

The spots quickly filled, and Hall said he now has a waiting list.

Waiting lists are common for vocational courses and schools. West Academy is at capacity with 1,350 students, receiving twice as many student applicants as seats, Bay said. The most popular program, veterinary, usually has three times as many applicants as openings. And students don't have to pay extra to attend.

For the CSN trial program, which the Clark County School Board is being asked to approve Thursday, students are charged $40 per course. That's the same rate students pay for any elective.

CSN will provide the facilities and teachers. The district must foot the bill for $52,000 in instructional costs and $7,000 of supplies.

"It's definitely cheaper" than high schools running the courses, said Hall, who's using a state competitive grant to cover the $59,000 cost.

Spangler's goal is to replicate this model at about three other high schools near CSN campuses. "I think it's a win all the way around," he said.

That goes especially for the students, who can earn 24 college credits by the end of high school and be well on their way toward a degree, then a career.

"Air conditioning, that's a hot field right now," Spangler said. "No pun intended. If you're not making $50,000 a year as an air-conditioning tech, you're not trying."


Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal,