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Sisolak’s budget doesn’t include money for teacher raises

Nevada’s magic trick of the year didn’t take place on the Strip. It was Gov. Steve Sisolak convincing the public that his budget includes a 3 percent raise for teachers.

It doesn’t. The money’s not there.

To understand Sisolak’s sleight of hand, consider this analogy. Say you make $50,000 a year. Your boss tells you that he’s going to give employees a 3 percent raise. Great. You expect that you’ll soon be making $51,500 a year. You’re then shocked to realize that after the “3 percent” raise you’re only earning $50,500 a year.

Without your knowledge, your boss lowered your salary to $49,000, so he would have the money to claim that he gave you a 3 percent raise of $1,500.

That’s dishonest. It’s also analogous to what Sisolak did in his education budget.

For the 2018-19 school year, Nevada spent $9,329 per-pupil, excluding capital costs. There are several sources of education funding, but the one at issue is the per-pupil basic support amount. That’s what the state gives school districts for every student. This school year, per-pupil basic support is $5,967.

Giving school district employees a 3 percent raise will cost $89.4 million next year with $78.9 million coming through basic support. With a projected enrollment of 490,000 students, the per-pupil cost of raises is $161.

That’s not the only increased expense facing school districts. Sisolak’s budget calls for $51.9 million — or $106 per student — for merit raises. To cover increases in retirement contributions and health care costs, Sisolak allocated $19.3 million or $39 a student. His budget includes a few million dollars more for these items outside of basic support.

Add those three amounts to $5,967 and the total is $6,274, an increase of $307 per student. You’d expect, then, that Sisolak proposed increasing per-pupil basic support by at least that much. Instead, Sisolak proposed spending $6,052, an increase of just $85. Credit to Kenny Retzl, education policy director for the Guinn Center, for uncovering this.

Providing $85 to pay $307 worth of new expenses isn’t a windfall. It’s a $222 shortfall. That’s a recipe for disappointment.

Sisolak’s proposal is the equivalent of someone taking $222 out of your left pocket, putting $307 in your right pocket and then claiming you’re now $307 richer. Nope.

No wonder Clark County School District officials have been raising the alarm bells about Sisolak’s budget. They don’t want teachers blaming them for not handing out the raises Sisolak promised, but didn’t deliver the funding for.

School districts are projected to receive a $165 per-student increase in local tax revenues. School districts could use that money to partially fund teacher raises, but those dollars didn’t come from Sisolak.

This whole episode has been especially embarrassing for the Clark County Education Association. CCEA backed Sisolak in the Democrat gubernatorial primary and through an affiliated PAC spent hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting his candidacy. Not only did Sisolak propose just a single 3 percent pay hike for teachers, he didn’t even fully fund it.

The likely end to this charade is the Legislature raiding some categorical funds to give school districts money to pay for the raises Sisolak promised, but didn’t pay for.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 10 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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