LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Increasing education funding was a primary focus for lawmakers during this year’s four-month legislative session and students will start this school year with a much larger investment from state lawmakers.
For the first time in two decades, Democrats took control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the Nevada Legislature. They said it would be an opportunity for sweeping change for many issues the party saw as a priority — including education.
But K-12 funding proved to be a challenging issue right up until the final hours of the session.
Throughout the legislative session, Governor Steve Sisolak made it clear that more dollars are needed to go to K-12 education.
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“I’ve been pretty consistent, you know, very consistent in my plan, what we wanted to do, we want to bring forward a 3 percent raise for our teachers,” Governor Sisolak said.
That was Sisolak in May as the Clark County Education Association turned up the pressure on teacher strikes.
The legislature spent the final few weeks focused on education funding as the Clark County School District told lawmakers promised boosts in funding would not be enough to close their budget hole.
At that point, the state’s money committees had boosted statewide education funding by about a billion dollars over current levels for the next two years.
Assembly Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton, a Democrat from Clark County, said the legislature had fully funded what schools had requested — and then some.
“I think we have done an excellent, just a great job in dealing with the education budget this time,” she said.
But with about a day left in the session, the Clark County School District announced it was still $111 million short of a balanced budget for the upcoming year, if it were to give the raises and step increases promised to the teachers by Governor Sisolak.
A bill was amended to restore funding to school safety initiatives — among other 11th hour changes — which helped send more money to schools and CCSD in particular.
Ultimately, lawmakers came within $17 million of what CCSD said it needed to fill its roughly $2.5 billion budget for the coming school year.
“We’ve done a lot to try and take care of our teachers, we want to ensure that we can provide those 3 percent raises, we’ve done a lot to increase the amount we are going to be giving for reimbursements for what we know teachers are spending in their classrooms,” said Democratic Senator Nicole Cannizzaro, majority leader.
Democrats also extended the payroll tax set to expire this year to the tune of roughly $100 million.
Republicans balked because Democrats did so without any Republican support.
“They gave me the carrot, the stick was obviously ‘hey we might get rid of this program,'” said Republican Senator Scott Hammond, Clark County.
Lawmakers also passed a repeal-and-replace of the 50-year-old formula that funds the schools. The new Nevada school funding plan won’t fully kick in for another two years.
“If this was an easy thing to do, it would have been done a long time ago, and one of the things we learned is that this is not an easy thing to do, it’s very hard,” said Democratic Senator Mo Denis, Clark County.
The issue over extending the modified business tax is heading to court.
The eight Republican senators, along with a handful of trade organizations, are suing because they believe the measure needed to pass with a two-thirds majority.
If the courts side with Republicans, Democrats have said the money to fill the resulting hole in the budget could come from the Rainy Day Fund or the state’s ending fund balance.
It’s interesting to note, that would, at least in part, bolster the Republican argument that the tax didn’t need to be extended in the first place.