Sandoval targets English language learners with proposal to increase program funding

CARSON CITY – Gov. Brian Sandoval said Monday he is proposing to allocate the $60.5 million in increased tax revenue projected by the Economic Forum to public education priorities, upping the total added spending to K-12 in the new budget to $484 million.

About $21 million of the new funding is proposed to provide additional support for English Language Learners, bringing the total commitment to this program to $50 million.

Another $39.5 million is proposed to lower class sizes in 199 all-day kindergartens that will be funded around the state, from the current average of 26 students per teacher to 21.

Sandoval already proposed expanding all-day kindergarten from the current 124 programs to 199 by fiscal year 2015.

If approved by the Legislature, spending on new programs and initiatives in Sandoval’s 2013-15 budget would total $130 million. The rest of the $484 million increase in public education spending is for teacher salaries, increased enrollment and other ongoing costs.

Spending in Nevada on public education, including state allocations and local revenues, totals $6.8 billion for the current biennium.

“In my State of the State, I committed to taking the steps necessary to get every Nevada child to read at grade level by the third grade,” Sandoval said. “As more resources have become available, I have continued to invest in our children’s education.”

Sandoval’s office said he would be the first Nevada governor to dedicate funds specifically to English Language Learners.

When Sandoval unveiled his budget in January, he proposed less than $50 million for new public education programs, including $20 million to expand all-day kindergarten and $14 million to help elementary school students become English proficient.

Due to savings elsewhere in his budget, Sandoval in early April announced another $25 million in funding for public education, including $10 million for a further expansion of all-day kindergarten and $15 million for English Language Learners.

The announcement on Monday would add another $60.5 million in public education funding.

“So I think that we have put a monumental marker down to show that education is a huge priority for this state,” Sandoval said. “We have 20 days left to go in this legislative session. These additions that I have made to education are paid for.”

The announcement came on the same day that Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, introduced a bill to hike the payroll tax on Nevada’s largest businesses to provide even more revenue for public education.

Sandoval rejected the proposal, saying he would veto it if it reached his desk.

In response to Sandoval’s announcement, Denis said: “While we welcome the additional funding the governor has proposed, it still short changes our children, so we encourage him to come to the table to provide a fair revenue stream that immediately reduces class sizes and properly funds ELL.”

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, also welcomed the news, but said, “it is disappointing that the Republicans would rather continue to underfund education and stonewall any attempts at real revenue discussion.”

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said the additional spending for public education is extraordinary given the state of Nevada’s economy.

“I really think that’s incredible,” he said. “And he is the first governor in the history of this state to propose specific state funding for the English language learner program. That’s a big deal.”

Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said the budget includes $51 million for increased teacher pay.

“And for those of us that care about reforms, I think we all would agree that supporting our teachers in meaningful ways, given all the challenges that they have in the classroom, is very, very important to the future of this state,” he said.

Due to a one-time additional $21 million in tobacco settlement funds, Sandoval’s budget will also include $8 million in new money for the Guinn Millennium Scholarship program for qualified high school graduates to attend college in Nevada.

Contact reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.