A campaign aiming to force the Nevada Legislature to put more money into the state’s schools is ramping up its efforts.
Fund Our Future Nevada, which launched in February, wants lawmakers to dedicate more money for Nevada schools by increasing the state’s per pupil spending. The coalition — which includes parents, teachers and community activists — is spearheaded by Educate Nevada Now, an education-focused nonprofit, and Hope for Nevada, a parent advocacy group.
Recent efforts include a question-and-answer session last week with Jason Goudie, the Clark County School District’s chief financial officer. The event, held at Vegas PBS and streamed live on Hope for Nevada’s Facebook page, drew about 25 people to the studio and 30 online viewers. At the end of the event, participants received instruction on how to make their case to legislators.
Advocates also took the floor during the public comment period at an Interim Education Committee meeting Thursday in Las Vegas, urging lawmakers to make education funding a priority during the 2019 session.
“The blame game needs to stop,” Clark County teacher Jana Pleggenkuhle told the committee. “We need to make sure our funding in all of Nevada is appropriate and it’s not.”
The push is largely happening organically, as a result of recent budget cuts in Clark County, said Michelle Booth, a spokeswoman for Education Nevada Now, but the coalition has been actively expanding its reach to add to the momentum.
“Parents were frustrated and they started looking at social media, they were finding our materials, they were sharing them,” she said. “They were learning from us, but we’re also learning from them.”
There’s also a lot of work happening behind the scenes, including researching other state models for funding education and seeing how those models might work in Nevada, Booth said.
They hope to be prepared with recommendations and strong community support by the time lawmakers return to Carson City in February.
Ramping up efforts
Coalition leaders have also been putting together presentations and sharing information about how the low funding levels are leading to budget cuts across all the state’s 17 school districts.
“All over Nevada, districts are increasing class sizes, cutting budgets and electives and letting go of teachers and support staff employees just to balance budget shortfalls,” said Caryne Shea, vice president of Hope for Nevada. “There are currently no winners in our K-12 funding system and those suffering the most are our students.”
In addition to sharing the information, organizers are teaching people how to talk to lawmakers. CCSD teacher Anna Slighting, a parent and member of Hope for Nevada, recommended after the Q&A session with Goudie that parents share personal stories when talking to lawmakers.
Andrea Cole, a mother and member of her son’s school organizational team at Lied Middle School in North Las Vegas, did just that at the Interim Education Committee meeting, discussing the latest round of budget cuts in Clark County.
“At the end of this year, I was angry and frustrated to have to make cuts that will negatively affect my son’s education,” she said of the process that forced schools to reopen and cut spending plans they already had completed for the 2017-18 year. “We need to change the system so that per pupil funding is based on what it will actually cost to educate a child versus an outdated arbitrary number.”
Others, like Greenspun Junior High School math teacher Dana Martin, testified that she regularly has 40 kids in her math classes.
Despite that obstacle to providing a quality education, “I am going to make it happen,” she said. “I’d like for you, our elected officials, and the School Board to do the same.”