After weeks of paring down the governor’s recommended budget to free up cash, Nevada lawmakers voted Saturday to increase K-12 education funding by $62.2 million.
Their decision means the average, basic per-pupil support guarantee — which accounts for a portion but not all of what state and local entities spend on public education — is $6,218 in the first year of the coming biennium and $6,288 in the second. It’s an increase of $166 and $172 per pupil above the levels the governor’s budget originally sought.
“This day right here is what we have been working 111 days to roll out,” said Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, “and to say we are committed to making this right and make an adjustment to make sure that we have our budget reflect our priority when it comes to education.”
The Clark County School District has said the amount in the governor’s original budget is $240 million short of what the district needs to remain whole and accomplish Gov. Steve Sisolak’s promised teacher raises. Superintendent Jesus Jara did not include the raises in the district’s budget, saying it couldn’t afford them at existing levels.
On Friday, the district again urged lawmakers to keep its students in mind when deciding how to spend the money they have cut throughout the session — a figure that Senate Republicans have pegged at about $250 million, and fiscal analysts say is closer to $220 million.
After the decision on Saturday, Jara and board President Lola Brooks issued a statement thanking the committees for allocating additional money and accounting for the districts’ inflationary costs, but indicating they hoped for more in coming days.
“This is a great start to begin to address inadequate K-12 funding in Nevada to meet the basic needs of students,” they said. “Early next week, we hope to see how much each school district will receive from the additional funds allocated today. We look forward to working with legislative leaders for additional funds as the session wraps up.”
The Clark County Education Association, which has threatened to strike in August if schools are not adequately funded, said the new money was not enough.
“When lawmakers have $250 million available over the biennium to spend and when Clark County schools alone need $120 million more annually on top of what has already been budgeted, an additional $62.2 million for education falls far short of the needs of our students,” the union said. “Lawmakers across the board ran on the promise of funding our schools. The funds are there. Now they need to make good on their promises to our schools and our students. It’s time to Fund Our Schools NOW!”
In the Saturday meeting of Senate and Assembly budget committees, Frierson acknowledged some of the angst over education funding that has dominated much of the session and added that the new infusion of money “reflects our commitment to doing better.”
“It has been a frustrating session messaging about how we've been working towards this. And I know that there's been a great deal of impatience and suspicion about where we would end up,” he said. “And I can't say that I blame people historically. Historically we have had opportunities to make some changes that would reflect our values. And I think that we have fallen short historically.”
The addition of funds includes a $40 million general increase over two years and $22.2 million over the biennium to cover the costs of education inflation, including the rising costs of textbooks, software and fuel.
Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Maggie Carlton said that adjustment deserved “a huge exclamation point” behind it.
“We haven't done this since 2007 and this is a commitment to the inflationary cost of education,” she said.
Several committee members noted how happy they were to be in a position to add money to schools, rather than cut it back as they did during the recession.
“I'm delighted that we're at this point today. We've gotten very creative over the past decade about figuring out ways of making do with less,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel. “Except I know that the kids of this state can really excel and really succeed and I love that we're able to give more resources to them because they and their teachers desperately need it.”