CARSON CITY -- The Legislative Committee on Education refused Wednesday to accept a proposal from a teachers and support staff group that called for lawmakers to adopt a business income tax and earmark some of the funds for public schools.
Committee members also did not act on other proposals from the Nevada State Education Association, including a call for the Legislature to restore all cuts to education funding made since the recession began in 2007 and an end to tax abatements that cost education money. They also rejected a proposal to return funding to pre-recession levels for education technology programs.
"In light of the huge budget deficit, I can't imagine us increasing any funding," said Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson. "We can't guarantee any budget allocation at this point."
Stewart said later during the daylong hearing that budget matters rest with budget committees, the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.
Any decision of the Education Committee to inject itself into these matters "would be superfluous," he said.
The committee did decide to recommend that the 2011 Legislature change state laws to give school districts the flexibility to shorten their school years.
The state now mandates a school year of 180 days.
The proposal would allow the state superintendent of public instruction to allow schools to cut as many as 10 days in times of "economic hardship."
Joyce Haldeman, associate superintendent of community and government relations for the Clark County School District, said the proposal could save jobs for teachers and other personnel.
If unions do not agree to "shared sacrifices," or reducing pay, school personnel would have to be laid off, Haldeman said. But the Clark County district can secure $9 million for each day it cuts from the year, and those funds could be used to avoid layoffs.
"If it is a choice between reducing the school years by a couple of days, or increasing class sizes (because of layoffs), then this may be an option," she said.
Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, called the plan to reduce the school year "just awful," but she joined other committee members in supporting drawing up legislation for the concept.
"We want our students in school," she said.
The biggest loser of the day may have been the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank in Las Vegas.
The group made 28 recommendations to change education, including eliminating class-size reductions, lengthening the time required for teachers to earn tenure, requiring open meetings for collective bargaining, securing merit bonuses for exceptional teachers and changing how teachers are evaluated.
Patrick Gibbons, an educational analyst for the institute, contended that younger teachers, in particular, deserve merit pay if they are superior educators. He said the system of longevity pay for older teachers should be replaced by a bonus pay program for teachers whose students attain specific achievements.
Gibbons also failed to win support for a plan to give tax credits to parents who make extra expenditures on education for their special needs children.
Members, however, did back a plan that would push back by 30 days the time frame when students are given standardized tests required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Woodhouse said she receives a lot of e-mail from teachers who claim Nevada students do poorly on standardized tests because teachers have not had time to teach them the necessary material. If testing is done later in the year, students presumably would do better.
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