After vote, a new partisan feud over education money
Last Thursday, the joint legislative budget committees voted 15-7 to approve three substantial K-12 budgets, including the sprawling $11 billion Pupil-Centered Funding Plan (PCFP) and the education rainy day fund, the Education Stabilization Account.
But that vote came on party lines, and in the days since, an esoteric budget committee vote has turned into rich political fodder.
One Assembly Democrats press release called the GOP votes “shameful.” A counterpart release from the Senate caucus went out with the subject line: “FLIP-FLOP ALERT.”
So what’s behind the messaging battle? Combined, the two votes include a much-ballyhooed $2 billion increase in state funding for K-12 funding — dollars that both parties have been eager to promote as their own idea, claiming credit for a massive bump in public school spending.
Democrats, for instance, have credited the increased funding to the PCFP itself, a Democrat-led push from 2019 that revamped the state’s five-decade-old K-12 funding formula. But the money was included in Gov. Joe Lombardo’s recommended budget, a cornerstone of his State of the State address that went hand-in-hand with the rest of his education agenda, including expanded school choice programs.
So when the seven Republicans reversed course from a subcommittee recommendation and voted in lockstep against those K-12 budgets last week, they sought to draw a bright line: This isn’t about the $2 billion.
Instead, they said, it’s about a whole other pot of money — an extra $291 million in the stabilization account this fiscal year that a legislative subcommittee recommended kicking back to the State Education Fund. That $291 million was what the governor in his budget had sought to carve out to fund expansions of elementary reading programs and teacher pipeline programs through his education omnibus bill, AB400.
“We made it clear, on the record, that we are supporting the money for K-12 — it’s just in what bucket,” Senate Minority Leader Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) said in an interview after the divided vote. “We did not vote ‘no’ on putting the $2 billion proposed by the governor, or really anything else related to that. It was just about the rollover dollars.”
In the budget subcommittee, Seevers Gansert was among several Republicans who voted to advance the initial recommendation. When asked if the governor’s office was involved after that subcommittee vote, she said “I talk to [Lombardo Chief of Staff Ben Kieckhefer] pretty consistently.”
Legislative Republican caucuses have since tried to clarify the fine line of Thursday’s vote. The pro-Lombardo Better Nevada PAC has hit back on Twitter, arguing that one-time Democratic spending will send education spending “off a cliff.”
But notwithstanding the fate of the $291 million from the stabilization account, what will be the compromise on the governor’s calls for more literacy and teacher pipeline money? Democrats suggested ahead of the vote that funding for the governor’s proposals would instead come via debates over general fund spending, later in the budget process.
A representative from Assembly Speaker Yeager’s (D-Las Vegas) office did not respond to a request for comment on what dollar amount might replace the old figures called for in Lombardo’s education bill. And though it was heard last month, AB400 has yet to receive a vote in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
A spokesperson for Lombardo's office, Elizabeth Ray, said that his office has "yet to receive an alternative proposal from the Legislature."
"We remain committed to funding those programs consistent with the Governor’s recommendation," Ray said.
Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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