Otto von Bismarck once famously quipped that if you like laws and sausages, it’s best not to watch either being made. To put a Nevada spin on the adage, now is the time to avoid Carson City.
Democrats on Monday unveiled Senate Bill 543, a proposal to overhaul the state’s education funding formula. Setting aside the details of this ambitious proposal, the measure personifies all that’s nutso about the Legislature and the state’s dysfunctional legislative process.
SB543 seeks to remodel the 50-year-old Nevada Plan, which established the funding mechanism for state public school districts. Critics argue that the revenue formula, which covers about 450,000 students, is antiquated and inflexible. Democrats — firmly in control of both the state Senate and Assembly, along with the Governor’s Mansion — vowed to tackle the issue.
So here comes the much-anticipated SB543. Among other things, it would set a minimum funding level for each student and consolidate dozens of revenue streams in an effort to promote transparency. Per-pupil funding would vary based on the needs of individual students, such as gifted kids, those with learning disabilities or non-English speakers. Rather than increase spending, the bill at this point would simply re-allocate the revenue currently spread among the state’s 18 school districts.
A proposal of this magnitude is intricate, complicated and no doubt replete with unknowns and unintended consequences. It deserves maximum scrutiny and a vigorous, open debate. But it will receive none of the above in Carson City.
Rather SB543 — perhaps the most important bill of the 2019 session — dropped with less than three weeks remaining until the Legislature’s June 3 adjournment date. Lawmakers won’t hold hearings on the proposal until next week. The details of SB543 — specifically what money would go where and to whom — remain unknown because the 120-page bill is frozen in draft form. Gov. Steve Sisolak said his office hasn’t even seen the measure yet.
This is, to be charitable, an utter farce.
SB543 has far-reaching ramifications for the state’s K-12 system. Competent leadership — in both the Legislature and the governor’s office — would have ensured this plan was available for scrutiny within days of the session’s onset in February, providing lawmakers with enough time to adequately vet the bill while giving interested parties and voters plenty of opportunity to be heard. Instead, Democrats maneuvered for three months behind the scenes and now hope to jam the reform through during the hugger-mugger of sine die.
Such an approach to lawmaking is irresponsible and reckless and an embarrassment to the majority. Nor does it bode well for the success of whatever reforms are included in the final version of Senate Bill 543.