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Touting Education First, Gibbons signs funding bill

RENO — Gov. Jim Gibbons on Wednesday signed the state’s education budget into law at the same Reno elementary school where he kicked off the Education First ballot initiative four years ago.

Gibbons said it’s thanks to that proposal, now a constitutional amendment, that this Legislature approved record increases in school funding and almost ended on time.

“We started Education First in 2003 after the legislative session” during which lawmakers held “education hostage,” Gibbons said at the signing ceremony for Assembly Bill 627 at Bernice Mathews Elementary School, referring to the fight that year pitting the education budget against tax increases.

“I said, ‘No more,'” the governor said.

Gibbons, his wife Dawn, and their allies collected signatures to put the initiative on the ballot and it passed by wide margins in 2004 and 2006, becoming law after the November election.

The same election made Gibbons governor, the first governor to whom the Education First amendment applied.

The amendment requires that the Legislature pass the schools budget before any other budget bills. AB 627 provides more than $2.2 billion to fund the main operations of the state’s schools.

Legislators reached a budget compromise allowing them to approve the main education budget on May 29, a week before the end of the legislative session.

But it was still education funding that pushed the lawmakers into extra innings. Gibbons allowed legislators to conduct a brief special session on Tuesday when Assembly Democrats were unable to process three bills including funds for education programs before the 1 a.m. end of the 120-day legislative session.

It is widely believed those bills were “held hostage” in the Senate to push the Assembly over the deadline so that Senate Republicans could get some things they wanted out of a special session.

Gibbons said the end-of-session skirmish “would have been more dramatic without Education First.”

He said the initiative did what it was supposed to by ensuring that the overall schools budget got discussed and passed earlier than it otherwise would have.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said Gibbons shouldn’t get credit for the $63 million in new education funding in the budget when his proposed budget would have put in just $13 million in new money.

“To me, the issue has never been about when education funding passed, it’s about whether education is going to be improved,” she said. “If it gets funded last, it’s probably because someone is trying to get more for it.”

The bills that led to the special session had additional appropriations for education funding, she said, because Assembly Democrats “kept trying to see if additional funds for programs for education could be found. We kept saying, ‘We need to do more.'”

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