Budget committee splits on party lines over $2 billion K-12 boost
Even as lawmakers from both political parties have sought to claim credit for a $2 billion increase to the state’s biennial K-12 spending, the full joint legislative budget committee split along party lines (15-7) on Thursday in a vote to approve the formal allocation of those new dollars.
As rising tax collections led to a massive projected revenue increase for the next two-year budget cycle, K-12 spending was set to rise by more than $2 billion, or roughly 26 percent, under the governor’s recommended budget from January.
A legislative subcommittee had moved to increase that amount by an additional $318 million with only one vote against on Tuesday, which included a separate budget maneuver to divert more than $291 million in excess funding from the state’s education rainy day fund back toward the state’s main K-12 funding account.
The transfer of excess funds back to the State Education Fund, which supplies per-pupil funding as dictated by the Pupil-Centered Funding Plan formula, is already prescribed under existing law. But Republicans — led by Gov. Joe Lombardo — have sought to earmark those excess dollars for certain policy programs, including a childhood literacy budget account and a teacher pipeline account.
On Tuesday, Democratic leaders deferred judgment on funding those programs, arguing instead that such specific allocations ought not to come from the state’s education budget, but from the general fund.
The latest partisan schism comes after Senate Minority Leader Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) said she misunderstood Tuesday’s vote on the education rainy day fund, and would not have supported the measure had she known it did not explicitly fund the governor’s proposed programs.
“I, clearly, and my colleagues, clearly, support funding education in a significant manner,” Seevers Gansert said Thursday. “But we want to make sure there's money set aside specifically to make sure our kids have a chance to read by third grade, because the long term outcomes for our entire K-12 system will change — will change — if we fund that appropriately.”
But Democratic leaders on the committee balked at the opposition, arguing that the governor’s bill, AB400, was still alive under a bill exemption requested explicitly by the governor’s office and that discussions over funding early childhood literacy and teacher pipeline programs would continue before the legislative session ends next month.
“We're still having those conversations, but to somehow suggest that supporting nearly a 26 percent increase to the [K-12 funding formula] and the $291 million extra dollars that went into education is somehow an affront to education — I don't understand that,” Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) said. “It would be an affront to me not to approve this kind of funding.”
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