Legislative money panels adopt school spending plan

CARSON CITY — The Legislature’s two budget committees approved a public school spending plan Friday that follows the governor’s recommendations and allocates basic state support of about $5,500 per pupil.

Although total spending on schools from all sources will reach almost $5 billion, the budget will not bring much change in class sizes in Clark County schools, which tend to have eight to 10 more students per class than in other districts in the state.

About 75 percent of the state’s 432,000 students live in Clark County. About $2.8 billion of the education funds come from the state general fund.

Most of the school spending plan was approved without opposition or much bickering between Republicans and Democrats.

Still left to be done, however, is what to do with about $75 million that initially was included in the basic student support formula because of a technical error. Legislators still could allocate this money — which would add $87 a year per student — or place the money in other educational areas.

Also left to finish was what to do with $17 million that previously was offered teachers as incentives to work in underperforming schools and teach classes such as math and science.

Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said studies show the program did not work and the funds could be spent more effectively in other education programs.

The approval of the school funding plan is the key factor needed to allow the Legislature to adjourn on time June 3.

While Smith expressed hope — during the four-hour Senate Finance Committee and Assembly Ways and Means Committee hearing — that additional education spending would be added, that remains a dream unless Republicans and Gov. Brian Sandoval relent on their no-new taxes pledges and back two Democrat tax bills to raise more than $300 million for education.

Surprisingly the only bipartisan tiff was over whether to allocate $1 million year for the Teach for America program that funds 90 teachers in Clark County.

“We have to approve this one way or another,” insisted Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.

But the Democratic majority blocked the Republicans.

Smith, however, agreed to draw up a bill that would appropriate funds for the program, although its chances for approval would appear remote.

Under the program, new college graduates, some without teaching credentials, agree to work two years in urban or rural schools. The nonprofit AmeriCorps program pays for their college student loans.

Critics have complained the program does not lead to many permanent teachers and instead the money would be better spent on graduates looking for teaching careers.

The biggest change in the 2013-15 spending plan versus past years is in full-grade kindergarten funding.

Due to a $30 million infusion of funds in recent months, the program now offered in 126 schools would be provided in 201 schools. The additional money would be used to hire 275 teachers and more than $3 million would be made available for portable classrooms.

A legislative report shows that basic school support, now $5,374 per student, will increase to $5,503 this fall and $5,589 in the fall of 2014.

Although numerous reports rate Nevada as one of the worst states for school funding, the legislative report noted that in 2010, funding per student from all sources, including local governments, was $8,483. At the time, the basic support provided by the state was $5,186.

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

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