Needs at some rural school districts exceed proposed additional K-12 funding
It’s raining in rural school districts, at least metaphorically.
That was one of the takeaways from the nearly eight-hour Saturday meeting between lawmakers and the superintendents of Nevada’s 15 rural school districts.
As Gov. Joe Lombardo has proposed to boost K-12 education funding by an additional $2 billion over the next biennium (raising per-pupil funding by roughly $2,000, an increase of more than 20 percent) legislative leaders set up Saturday’s meeting in order to learn how school districts plan to use that money to improve student achievement. Another meeting with superintendents from the school districts in Washoe and Clark counties is scheduled for Friday.
The meetings come after several calls demanding accountability from the districts. Democratic legislative leaders are also pushing for school districts to use their funds to raise educators’ salaries.
The rural superintendents said they want to do more for their students and staff, but even with the historic proposed $2 billion increase in K-12 education funding, some say it won’t result in a dramatic windfall for all of their schools and might not go far enough to cover the 10 percent salary increases that Democratic lawmakers are advocating for.
Under Lombardo’s budget, Lander County School District’s total state funding is expected to increase by about $1.9 million over the next biennium. However, Superintendent Russ Klein said the district may need to use those additional funds to cover the projected $1.9 million in increased costs for expenditures such as utilities, health care and the state retirement plan, leaving the district with nothing for salary raises.
“So if you look at that, just on these costs to break even, I'm out of money,” he said. “I don't have any money for increases now. How it flows out and what choices we make, rob Peter to pay Paul, we’ll do those things.”
Lombardo’s recommended budget also proposes stashing nearly $1.6 billion into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, a savings account used to stabilize the operations of state government during emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) said the school districts’ stories of poverty among students and families and other issues show that for a lot of Nevadans, it’s raining right now.
“So just something to keep in mind as we go forward through this budgeting process [is] that yes, the state has record amounts of money right now, but we have a lot of needs and real, real needs that are existential,” he said.
Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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