Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons and his official spokesman, Dan Burns, sent a mixed message Wednesday about motivation behind proposals for major education reform in the state.
The reform calls for stripping from the law books mandates for everything from small class sizes to collective bargaining requirements.
Before Gibbons met with reporters to discuss the reform proposal, Burns repeatedly emphasized that saving money to fix the state’s budget problems wasn’t the motivation.
"It isn’t so much about saving money; it is about improving education," Burns said. "The same amount of money is still going to education."
Gibbons, however, repeatedly emphasized the potential monetary savings he and Burns estimated to be $30 million to $100 million over two years.
"Why now is because the state budget is not showing the vitality we had hoped for at the end of the legislative session. We are required by the constitution, required by law, to balance the budget," Gibbons said.
Later, the governor added: "We can no longer expect that 46 percent of the state’s budget fund all of the budget reductions. Fifty-four percent goes to education in this state, and we avoided education last time with only a 2.5 percent reduction. Now we are looking at something that is already, after three to five months, $72 million short. We can no longer expect to keep going back to that well of 46 percent of the budget to make up 100 percent of the reduction."
Eventually, Burns spoke up during the session between Gibbons and reporters to clarify.
"(A reporter) and I already discussed earlier outside that this should be looked at as education improvement, education reform. Not as a budget, don’t look at it that way," Burns said.
After the clarification, Gibbons began to emphasize the nonmonetary motivation for reform.
"Let me just say we are not going to balance the state budget by reducing education. We are never going to do that. What we are trying to do is create efficiencies on the way we deliver education that will help us reduce the cost down the road. We are going to make an empowerment of every school district with our proposal, allowing them to choose what works for them, what works for their students, what works for their schools, what gives the best result," Gibbons said.
The proposals are likely to be included on Gibbons’ agenda for an expected special session of the legislature. Typically, special sessions last only a few days and are focused narrowly on specific budget or legislative issues. Proposing to tackle a broad reform proposal in such a fashion has led to accusations that Gibbons is seeking to boost his dismal political standing with voters in advance of the Republican primary in June.