Assembly Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Maggie Carlton says legislative leaders plan to decide late Friday how much they will add back to the state’s main education account on Saturday, although she said she thinks the amount at their disposal is lower than the $250 million that Senate Republicans say has been freed up in the budget.
Nevada’s Distributive School Account is not yet “closed” as lawmakers wait on a final projection of student enrollment. The finalization of that budget is scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday.
“We're still waiting on that absolute enrollment number because I don't want to put a number in if the enrollment isn't right, because then you’re funding kids that aren't there,” said Carlton, a Democrat. “We don't want to put the school districts in a position where they can claim that they didn't get funded adequately … it's not a shortfall if it's on your wish list but you don't get everything on your wish list.”
But she said the Legislature does want to put more money in the Distributive School Account (DSA).
“Oh, I hope so. We really want to do it,” she said. “I just think it's a matter of how much because you have to keep in mind that whenever you do, you're building into the base. You're making a long-term commitment, so you've just got to be kind of careful how you do it.”
She does think the school safety budget, which was reduced by about $30 million from levels proposed by Gov. Steve Sisolak, is final.
“I think we're there. I think it's very reasonable,” Carlton said. “I think we gave them a lot of resources to where they can get geared up and get going the first year and into the second year. And they can always come back to [the Interim Finance Committee] and say, okay, we got all these social workers the first year and we can hire even more the second year.”
Legislative budget committees, led by Carlton and Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, have been making significant cuts to Sisolak’s proposed budget in recent weeks, including from school safety accounts and $32 million from the Nevada System of Higher Education. Updated projections on Medicaid and K-12 enrollment have also freed up large chunks of money.
Senate Republicans said Thursday that they were told there is around $250 million leftover for legislators to redistribute in the days before sine die. Woodhouse declined Thursday to confirm the figure, saying it’s still pending, and Carlton did not offer up her own figure, but said she thinks the Republicans’ number is too high.
“It's not that high. I don't know where they're getting that number from. It's not something that was ever in my brains,” Carlton said. “I guess they might've just been adding up cuts, but not figuring out the money that we were spending on the other side on other things.”
Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson was also noncommittal when asked if he thinks the $250 million figure is accurate.
"There's still a lot to be said. It could be less, it could be more. We'll still work that out," he said. "Until the end of session, we'll keep looking for as much as we can."
Education organizations, which have already been clamoring for more money to accomplish Sisolak’s promised teacher raises, on Friday laid out their ideas for reshuffling the freed up money.
The Clark County Education Association and the Clark County School District both underscored the importance of school safety in press releases issued on Friday.
“We cannot imagine what other funding priority would be more critical than the safety of our children and educators,” CCSD said.
CCSD called lawmakers to fully fund teacher raises and health benefit increases, help reduce class sizes and fully fund pre-kindergarten seats. CCEA and CCSD also pointed to implementation of SB543 — an overhaul of Nevada’s 52-year-old funding formula — as a possible destination of the funds.
Senate Republicans announced plans of their own to increase education funding, including the return of some funding to school safety.
“We propose a line-item increase to class size reduction of $100 million to help school districts strategically cut class sizes,” they said in a press release. “This funding would put roughly 865 additional teachers in the classroom next year, and sustain them over the biennium, directly and immediately impacting students.”
Senate Republicans also proposed using some of the funds for Opportunity Scholarships, a program backed by business donations made in exchange for tax credits, which help low- to middle-income students attend private school.
Woodhouse didn’t commit to any specific add-backs, but said many things are on the table.
"We are working now on the changes that we've made, and looking at what some of the priorities are for where we want to be able to address some other issues, and all of that is on the table and being discussed,” she said. “School safety is certainly on the table, along with a lot of other things."
Updated at 9:30 p.m. on May 24, 2019 to add comment from Speaker Jason Frierson.