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Democrats want $310 million more for education

CARSON CITY — Democratic legislators said Monday they want at least
$310 million more for public education in the 2013-15 budget period but acknowledged they do not know now where to find the money.

“It could be a lot more or a lot less,” said Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, during a news conference.

Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Las Vegas, said they want full-day kindergarten in all schools, more money for English language learners and reduced class sizes now.

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s budget calls for $14 million for English learners and an additional 46 full-day kindergartens in the next two years.

“Because the economy is growing and local revenues are up, overall spending on K-12 education is up over $400 million from last biennium,” said Mary-Sarah Kinner, Sandoval’s press secretary. “The governor’s budget included increased spending for education without increased taxes. The governor will not support a tax increase.”

Denis, however, said, “We must invest in these programs now.”

But Democrats have not come up with a way to raise the additional money.

Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said Sandoval‘s budget already includes “significant increases“ for education. He proposes adding
$135 million, or 5.9 percent.

Democrats, however, contend most of that is for the growth in enrollment.

“While polls show Nevadans support more spending for education, they also don’t want job-killing taxes to accomplish it,” Hickey said. “I worry that the $500 million extra the Democrats are asking for in the form of taxes could threaten the job growth we are just starting to see.”

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said that on March 5 the Senate and Assembly taxation committees will look at the Nevada State Education Association’s proposed new 2 percent business margin tax, which would exempt the first $1 million in company revenue. The union estimated the tax would raise $800 million a year for education.

Kirkpatrick said that despite its problems, the teachers’ plan deserves serious discussion. If rejected, the proposal would be placed before voters in 2015.

Assembly Republican Paul Anderson of Las Vegas said everyone wants to do what is best for students, but the reality is Nevada has a “fragile economy” where people are struggling to stay in their homes and employers are trying to keep people on the payroll.

“They can’t absorb more tax burdens,” he added.

After the news conference, Smith said it would cost $150 million a year to provide the aid the 76,000 English language learners in Nevada need.

Denis said only one in 12 English language learners passed the high school proficiency examination language sections, a graduation requirement.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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