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EDITORIAL: Legislative Democrats burden school districts with higher costs

Updated May 23, 2019 - 9:44 pm

Obviously, Nevada’s public school funding “crisis” isn’t as acute as advertised.

State taxpayers are scolded ad infinitum that more money, money, money is the solution to all of Nevada’s education pathologies, particularly dismal test scores and teacher turnover. “You just give us the money,” one teacher union official famously told the Review-Journal editorial board years back, “and we’ll take it from there.”

The notion that Nevada needs to spend another $1 billion each year to “adequately” fund the state’s public school system is a perpetual theme of many advocates. Education funding typically dominates the debate each legislative session, and the 2019 gathering in Carson City is no different.

Gov. Steve Sisolak has promised 3 percent raises for teachers, but the budget math remains murky as the session winds down and lawmakers search the sofa for pocket change. Meanwhile, lawmakers have little time to consider an ambitious overhaul of the state’s 50-year funding formula for public education.

But amid all this, legislative Democrats — who hold healthy majorities in both the Assembly and state Senate — found the time to advance Assembly Bill 136 to Gov. Sisolak’s desk. The measure would drive up school construction costs by reversing reforms passed in 2015 that were intended to help school districts save on capital expenditures.

Under the four-year-old law, school construction projects must pay just 90 percent of the local prevailing wage, rather than the full 100 percent required for other government building endeavors. The statute applies to projects above $250,000 — up from the previous $100,000 — and exempts charter schools altogether.

AB136 would undo all of the above, forcing school districts to pay more for construction and imposing burdensome financial restraints on charter operators hoping to build stand-alone campuses.

“This bill, very simply, is going to make taxpayers pay much more money,” state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, a Reno Republican, observed, “to get the exact same thing.”

Indeed, AB136 is a shameful sop to organized labor, a major Democratic benefactor. Faced with a choice of maintaining relief for school districts when it comes to expensive prevailing-wage mandates or appeasing their union patrons by burdening districts with higher construction expenditures, legislative Democrats chose the latter.

Gov. Sisolak should veto AB136, which is an assault on both school districts and taxpayers. But don’t bet on it. The message Democrats are sending to taxpayers, however, is clear: Far from being mired in a fiscal morass, the state’s public school districts have money to burn.

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