(Some) labor and (some) business come together to talk education

Well, at least they’re talking.

That’s the one good thing that may have emerged from today’s Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance luncheon at the MGM Grand conference center, in which representatives of business, the teachers union and the Nevada Legislature met to talk about fixing and funding education in Nevada.

The downsides? Thus far, no specific tax proposals have been floated, much less gained the support of participants. And while there were representatives of some groups — the Henderson Chamber, the Urban Chamber, the Clark County Education Association — major players mostly stayed away. (The Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Nevada Resort Association and the Retail Association of Nevada distanced their organizations from the event.)

But two prominent members of the Legislature were there — incoming state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, and incoming Assembly Minority Leader Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, appeared to agree on the broad outlines of the problem. But neither said they could speak for the Assembly Republican caucus, which was rocked today by reports that speaker-designate Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, had penned a series of ridiculously controversial columns for the Sparks Tribune.

Roberson and Kirkpatrick made clear that a tax increase that puts additional money into education was necessary.

“We’re going to be in a situation where we’re going to have to cut education significantly,” Roberson warned. “And I am not going to cut education. We’re going to better fund education.”

Kirkpatrick tried to head off the idea that money can be found in the existing budget, or that school funding could be better utilized by local districts. “I don’t know where that [idea] comes from,” she said. “I don’t know one thing that we can cut.”

Roberson agreed: “I have severe skepticism of anyone who says we can just cut our way to success.”

But Roberson, and Global Economic Alliance board member Glenn Christenson, cautioned that spending more without education reforms was a non-starter, too. “No one is interested in writing a blank check for education,” Christenson said.

Business leaders want to see reforms such as teacher development programs, performance pay, a progressive system of disciplining under-performing teachers and an program that seeks to have all children reading by age 3 in exchange for more revenue.

Kirkpatrick said she agreed with those ideas, “…but folks, we have to have a real conversation about how do we fund it.”

While some tax ideas were mentioned during Thursday’s lunch, none were endorsed by anyone. And with the 2015 Legislature preparing to kick off in a little more than two months, specifics are badly needed, and soon. Global Economic Alliance President and CEO Tom Skancke said he was planning at least one more similar event before the session starts, presumably to focus on more specific ideas.

Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce said it will be holding a meeting of its K-12 education committee on Dec. 16, ostensibly to address the same issues. And, according to sources, a group of gambling industry CEOs — meeting before the Nov. 4 election — discussed both a gross receipts-type tax or a version of the margins tax that voters rejected by nearly 80 percent as possible tax solutions.

The Legislature convenes Feb. 2.

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