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Raggio, superintendents clash

CARSON CITY — School superintendents clashed with the Nevada Senate’s Republican leader over education funding on Tuesday, as an Assembly Democratic leader renewed his attack on the governor’s K-12 education budget.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, was not optimistic during a joint Senate-Assembly budget meeting about the Legislature’s ability to fund a dozen extra education programs that would cost $1 billion over two years.

The programs are part of the educator’s iNVest, or Investing in Nevada’s Education, Students and Teachers, effort.

The superintendents pushed their iNVest proposal for the third session in a row, asking for extra money for full-day kindergarten, career and technical education, textbooks, salary increases, health benefits, hiring incentives, and English language learning programs.

Raggio said every session he asks the same question: What iNVest program would get priority in the event the Legislature can’t fund all of them?

"I guess the question is moot this time because we don’t have excess funds," Raggio added.

The state faces a projected shortfall of between $110 million and $130 million over the coming two years. As a result, many budget add-ons are being deleted.

Also Tuesday, Assemblyman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, challenged Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons over proposed funding for K-12 education.

Arberry wrote the governor that the executive budget does not provide the same enhancements to K-12 education as it does to higher education and human services.

"Your proposed budget, with only $13 million in enhancements, does not begin to make the commitment that we need for innovative programs to truly improve the quality of education in our classrooms," Arberry said.

The governor has questioned Arberry’s comments, saying his budget plan increases per-pupil spending by 13 percent over the coming two years. He added there’s $81 million for K-12 schools to replace lost county revenue. Under law, the state has no choice but to replace that lost revenue.

During the joint Assembly-Senate budget hearing, Raggio pushed a school empowerment program as a way to use existing education money in a better way. Empowerment programs allow schools to decide what needs to be funded the most.

"Let’s talk about existing funding rather than funding we know we aren’t going to have," Raggio said.

Gibbons and Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, have proposed different versions of an empowerment program.

Carson City schools chief Mary Pierczynski, speaking for the Nevada Association of School Superintendents, was not able to prioritize the programs or suggest how they would be funded.

"I wish we had all the answers for the money. We don’t. But it is our professional responsibility to bring to you those things we know we need to improve student achievement," she said.

Richard Siegel, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said both Democratic and Republican school funding proposals were inadequate at a time when the state is experience unprecedented private wealth.

Siegel said the state’s top CEOs, who complain about being unable to recruit Nevada workers because of the state’s lackluster education, should come and give input when budgets are being discusses.

"There is so much wealth, and yet there is so much poverty in K-12," Siegel said, adding that the percentage of the budget going to education has dropped proportionately to the rise in prison funding.

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