Emotional testimony about proposed cuts to the state's education budget confronted lawmakers Monday night at Green Valley High School, where a crowd of 1,200 jammed the Henderson school's theater and spilled out onto the sidewalk.
The proposed cuts make it obvious that Nevada caters to industries that don't need an educated work force, said Kristina Intinarelli, a student at the College of Southern Nevada and an aspiring English professor, to legislators on the Joint Subcommittee on K-12 Education and Higher Education.
The group, in Southern Nevada to gather input on the proposed state education budget for 2011-13, includes the Senate Committee on Finance and the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means.
Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones said Gov. Brian Sandoval's proposed cuts would "cripple" the district, which faces its own budget shortfall of $250 million to $275 million next year.
"What's being proposed right now is too much," Jones said.
Sandoval is calling for an overall 9 percent cut in state spending on public education, which includes 5 percent reductions to employee salaries and proposals requiring teachers to pay higher retirement costs. Nevada's higher education system funding would decline by $91.5 million in 2012, and $162 million in 2013, system officials have said.
The new cuts also would magnify the impact of earlier budget cuts to public education. The school district, for example, has eliminated 1,734 positions since 2007 to make up for a series of budget shortfalls totaling $375 million.
After listening to 60 public speakers, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said he understood that "people don't want more cuts to education."
Because the theater used for the meeting could seat only about 600 people, Green Valley students set up speakers from the band department so people outside could hear the proceedings.
A broad spectrum of the public attended, including nine high school and middle school students from rural Sandy Valley who waved signs protesting future cuts.
Some in the crowd called for more accountability from public education, meeting complaints from teachers and members of district employee unions about Nevada's low funding for education with calls for better results.
More money doesn't necessarily guarantee improvement, some speakers said, and Nevada faces a financial crisis.
"Don't spend what you don't have," said speaker Dan Hickey. "That's what my daddy always told me."
Michael Chamberlain, executive director of the Nevada Business Coalition, said teachers are not the only people suffering in this economy.
"As many as 25 percent of people in Nevada may be unemployed right now," Chamberlain said. "Business owners have had to dip into their savings to keep their doors open. Thousand of businesses have already closed their doors. We can't afford to burden those families and those business more than they already have been with increased taxes."
Rachel Spilsbury, 14, a freshman at Arbor View High School in the northwest valley, responded by saying that Nevada won't attract new businesses without investing in education.
"Gaming taxes have not been raised since 1978," Spilsbury said. "Mining taxes have not been raised since the Nevada constitution was written. We need to find new revenue for education."
Patricia Quinn, a first-grade teacher, said teachers are unfairly taking the blame for their states' budget woes. She added, "We should no longer be demonized."
Contact reporter James Haug at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-374-7917.