A Clark County Education Association-backed campaign will be spending millions on social media and television ads during the upcoming legislative session — a bid to pressure lawmakers into additional education funding.
Officials from the teachers’ union say more than 15,000 signatures have been gathered for the organization’s “Fund Our Schools Now” campaign. They describe it as a grassroots campaign that will involve more than 50,000 parents, educators and students during the 2019 Legislature, which begins Feb. 4.
One ad, narrated by a student, says there aren’t enough teachers for children learning English and ends with an emotional appeal to Gov. Steve Sisolak: “Mr. Governor, our fingers are crossed for our classmates.”
Another has the feel of an election season campaign ad. It references lack of teacher raises and then features a smiling portrait of Sisolak as the on-screen text and narration says, “Governor Sisolak will make this year different.”
CCEA endorsed Sisolak early in the gubernatorial race and donated $10,000 to his campaign last year, according to campaign finance reports. Nevada Leads, the union’s political action committee, also funneled money toward television ads touting Sisolak during election season.
In addition, the union’s executive director, John Vellardita, donated $5,000 to Sisolak’s campaign last year.
“We’re trying to get a lot of people involved in this session. Obviously, there are expectations with one party controlling government,” Vellardita said, noting the union’s continued support of Sisolak. “We want to make sure this is a session of accomplishment and that he is successful leading.”
The union intends to release new ads frequently and in real time as the legislative session unfolds, Vellardita said. It’s unclear where the television ads will air market-wise. Vellardita said that could change based on the ad and what’s happening in Carson City at the time.
The name for the union’s campaign has caused some confusion with another funding-related coalition called “Fund Our Future Nevada,” which began early last year and has more than a dozen partners, including Educate Nevada Now, the Nevada State Education Association and the Clark and Washoe County school districts.
Vellardita said there’s a mission difference between the two campaigns.
“They’re advocating for a massive overhaul of the Nevada Plan, and their focus is statewide,” he said. “Our focus is we need to obviously change the way funding is distributed to students. We need more funding, and we need equitable funding, but we know Nevada politics. There is no $1 billion or $3 billion solution in this upcoming session.”
The Nevada Plan is the funding formula, created in 1967, for the state’s K-12 public education system. It has come under criticism in recent years as being inadequate to address the needs of today’s students. School officials and other education advocates want to see a weighted funding formula that would direct per-pupil dollars to students based on their unique needs. The state is in the beginning stages of implementing a weighted funding formula. Right now, districts receive an extra $1,200 for the neediest students in the most underperforming schools.
Caryn Shea, vice president of HOPE for Nevada, acknowledged the “Fund Our Future Nevada” coalition is different from CCEA’s campaign but not in terms of a monetary request.
“I don’t think we know what the cost is,” she said. “We’re not just blanketly saying we want the national average because the national average is over $12,000 per student right now.”
She said the “Fund Our Future Nevada” coalition believes a statewide approach and solution is in the best interests of all educators, families and students.
“Our students are not having their needs met no matter where they are,” she said. “So, yes, we are focusing on a statewide solution with a timeline. We know that we’re not going to get a $1 billion infusion.”
This story was updated to correct the year the Nevada Plan was formed.