Democrats present $250 million for teacher raises; Republicans question sustainability
Legislative Democrats on Thursday presented their plan in a hearing to boost teacher salaries statewide with a bucket of $250 million in state dollars — though precisely how that money could be spent raised eyebrows among some school districts and teacher unions.
SB231 — sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) and Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) and co-sponsored by 34 other Democrats — would set aside $250 million from the state’s general fund, not the K-12 budget, to increase pay for licensed educators and paraprofessionals.
However, teacher raises are technically bound by contract negotiations between school districts and unions and can’t easily be earmarked by lawmakers.
As a result, SB231 would instead allow the Interim Finance Committee — a body of lawmakers that meets between legislative sessions to make spending decisions — to dole out the money from the $250 million bucket as matching funds to increases agreed upon between districts and bargaining units under certain conditions (including not using those increases to reduce existing compensation elsewhere).
Information on the negotiated increases and the fiscal impact of those decisions would be presented to lawmakers by district officials by mid-August, and the $250 million would need to be spent before September 2025 before reverting back to the general fund.
The move comes as lawmakers from both parties and Gov. Joe Lombardo seek to boost education funding, in large part by backing a $2 billion increase in the state’s K-12 spending driven by historically high tax revenues. But as the session has dragged on, the particulars of that funding — and whether or not lawmakers will approve Democratic proposals in excess of the money proposed by Lombardo — have become a political football.
A spokesperson for Lombardo's office declined to comment on the bill.
Presenting the bill to the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, Cannizzaro argued that with severe shortages still gripping the state’s schools, better education outcomes would start with additional spending on teacher recruitment and retention.
“What our kids actually, really do need at this point in time … is a qualified teacher in every classroom,” Cannizzaro said. “They deserve that. We, as a Legislature, owe that to them.”
The state’s largest teachers union, the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) — so far a reliable ally of Lombardo’s education proposals this legislative session — also lined up in support of the bill.
“You often hear of how many vacancies we have, and at some point you become numb to that figure, that there’s 1,400 vacancies [at CCSD],” CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita told the committee. “Well, over the next 10 years, we’re going to need 14,000 educators in Clark County alone, through attrition and growth in population.”
But Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert pressed Cannizzaro as to whether the mechanisms presented by the bill would create unintended consequences for state budgets, namely through using one-time spending to fund ongoing expenses such as salaries, and whether or not the money would be better used for one-time spending boosts, such as retention bonuses.
“I guess the question is about making sure this is sustainable, if you’re asking for a percentage increase [in teacher pay],” Seevers Gansert said.
The Nevada State Education Association, the state teachers union, also raised separate concerns over potential ripple effects from the new money.
Testifying against the bill, NSEA lobbyist Chris Daly told lawmakers that, though the group backed the theory behind boosting teacher salaries, the uneven nature of distribution of new education dollars to smaller school districts — with Storey County set to lose a small percentage of funding — would restrict the ability of some districts to hit the matching fund threshold.
Raining in schools
CCEA previously estimated that the $250 million would equate to a 10 percent increase in salaries for all educators, licensed professionals and support staff in the first year of the coming biennium. But during two NSEA rallies in Carson City and Las Vegas, educators and supporters said that’s not enough.
On Thursday, about two dozen individuals stood outside of the Clark County School District’s school board room with their umbrellas signifying the “rain” happening inside Nevada’s historically underfunded schools.
Instead, they called on the Legislature to approve additional funding toward raising teacher salaries statewide by 20 percent, raising pay for support staff to at least $20 an hour and lowering class sizes to 20 students per teacher as part of the union’s Time for 20 campaign.
Etcheverry referenced Nevada’s strong economy, which has resulted in record state revenue. Gov. Joe Lombardo has proposed to expand the Rainy Day Fund from 20 percent to 30 percent of total state general fund appropriations and more recently, legislative Democrats moved to increase the cap on the maxed-out Education Stabilization Account.
“No longer can the Nevada leaders tell us they cannot afford Time for 20,” said NSEA President Dawn Etcheverry.
Caroline Kumioka previously worked at a museum, but she was motivated to become a library aide at a Clark County elementary school after she found herself without a job during the pandemic.
“Field trip day was my favorite day when [students] came, and I've got a good teacher’s voice,” she said.
But at a salary of $19,000 a year, she said she couldn’t do the job without the income of her husband.
“I love my kids, but this is crazy,” Kumioka said.
Karen Berney, an aide for autistic students at a Title I school that serves a high percentage of students from low-income families, said after 19 years in the district, she finally makes $20 an hour. She urged Gov. Joe Lombardo to give educators like her the money they need to stay in the profession.
“You want happier, educated kids?” Berney asked. “You give it to us, the kids will see it.”
Update: 5/18/23 at 3:23 p.m. — This article was updated to note that a spokesperson from Gov. Joe Lombardo's office declined to comment on SB231.
Update: 5/18/23 at 7:40 p.m. — This article was updated to add details from a Nevada State Education Association rally.
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