Democratic lawmakers propose $250 million to boost educator raises
Democrats in the state Senate and Assembly announced a proposal to add $250 million to the state’s education budget to help provide raises for Nevada teachers and education support staff in an effort to address a record number of teacher vacancies.
The proposal announced Friday would dedicate a minimum of $250 million to match allocations within school districts’ budgets for teacher and staff raises up to a certain percentage.
“Nevada schools are facing record numbers of teacher vacancies, and it must be our top priority to ensure we have a qualified teacher in every classroom,” Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) said in a press release. “As education funding increases, we need to hold our school districts accountable to ensure that money is being appropriately spent to attract and retain qualified teachers in every corner of Nevada.”
In an emailed statement to The Nevada Independent, Gov. Joe Lombardo’s Chief of Staff Ben Kieckhefer said the administration “[looked] forward to reviewing the proposal and understanding their funding mechanism.”
“Funding education is a shared priority between both parties and both branches of government,” Kieckhefer said.
Lombardo’s administration previously stated any decisions on salaries for school employees would be made at the local level. As an expenditure not already included in his budget and with Lombardo wielding veto power, the Democrats' proposal could face an uncertain future or require some negotiations.
So far, the announcement has been welcomed by the state’s two largest school districts.
The Clark County Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, applauded the announcement and said it 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 the statewide teachers union, the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA), was less enthused by the proposal.
“$250 million is a good down payment on NSEA’s Time For 20 campaign,” said NSEA President Dawn Etcheverry. “Amidst unprecedented educator vacancies a year ago, NSEA launched Time For 20, calling for a 20 percent increase in educator pay,; at least $20 per hour for the workers who make our schools run, and average class sizes of 20 students to address overcrowding.”
The statewide union also expressed doubts that all districts would be able to take advantage of the proposed matching funds, especially because some districts’ budgets have been frozen since the state shifted to the Pupil-Centered Funding Plan to guarantee that they wouldn’t receive less funding than they did in fiscal year 2020.
In 2021, the average teacher salary in Nevada was about $58,167, according to the National Education Association. Last year, the Clark County School District increased its starting salary from about $43,000 to about $50,000.
High housing costs and rental prices along with the increased cost of living have left many Nevada teachers priced out of homeownership and exacerbated a shortage of teachers, classroom aides, bus drivers and other support staff.
Just before the start of this school year, the Clark County School District had 1,386 open classroom teacher positions. The Nevada State Education Association estimated there were almost 3,000 vacant certified and classified staff positions statewide at about the same time.
Lawmakers said the additional funding is designed to provide incentives to school districts to dedicate a portion of new funding to attracting and retaining qualified teachers and support staff. It would add an additional $250 million to the state’s existing education budget which is set to increase by $2 billion under Lombardo’s budget.
Lombardo’s proposed education budget would raise the total per-pupil spending from $10,290 this year to $12,881 in fiscal year 2025, or a 25 percent increase.
Staff salaries make up a large bulk of school districts’ budgets. Although raises for teachers are missing from Lombardo’s budget proposal, his office has said they could be negotiated by their school districts and collective bargaining units at the local levels. During a Legislative Commission Budget Subcommittee meeting on Friday, Superintendent Jhone Ebert told lawmakers that districts can choose to use the money they receive under the Pupil-Centered Funding Plan to increase salaries.
Speaker-Elect Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) said in the press release that though Lombardo’s proposed budget laid out a historic $2 billion investment in K-12 education, more funding needed to be allocated to address teacher pay issues.
“In this time of record revenues, we must do more, especially for our educators and education support professionals, because there is no greater investment we can make than in Nevada’s students,” he said.
Washoe County School District Superintendent Susan Enfield said staff compensation is a concern, especially with median home prices in the Reno-Sparks area at more than $500,000. Meanwhile, the starting salary for Washoe teachers is about $41,000 a year. Enfield would like to see that bumped to around $50,000.
“I think it's really important that we acknowledge our gratitude and the significance of this investment, but it's not going to get the job done,” she said about Lombardo’s proposed funding boost. “The additional amount that the Democrats have put on the table, I think, is absolutely needed.”
Meanwhile, Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara said in a statement though he applauded legislators and the governor for their support, the additional $250 million isn’t enough to cover salaries and benefits. He referenced a November report that estimated schools needed an additional $325 million to provide a 10 percent increase in base salaries — an amount that needs to be adjusted to account for an upcoming increase in contribution rates for the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System.
Jara said the funding needs to be ongoing in future bienniums, instead of a one-time addition to the budget.
“As the other superintendents across the state and I continue saying, without optimal education funding levels this session, we will not be able to retain our teachers and support professionals and recruit to fill vacancies plus provide the wrap-around services that ultimately serve our students in their academic success,” he said.
As part of his proposed budget, Lombardo said he would like to place nearly $1.6 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, a state savings account used to stabilize the operations of state government during emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Democrats have criticized the decision to place surplus dollars into the fund when the surplus money could be used for needs such as additional rental relief aid and teacher pay.
Representatives from CCEA said that the funding to boost educator salaries is critical to addressing a teacher vacancy crisis and needs to also be met with the creation of a Nevada teacher pipeline designed to train the next generation of Nevada teachers. The pipeline would place training programs in every high school and allow students to automatically enroll in higher education and graduate with tuition abatements in exchange for serving as teachers in public schools.
“We look forward to working in a bipartisan way with our leaders in both houses and parties in Carson City and alongside the Governor to ensure that these proposals become reality in what promises to be a session of accomplishments,” CCEA representatives wrote in a press release.
This story was updated at 10:55 a.m. on 2/3/23 to add comment from the Nevada State Education Association and at 11:51 a.m. to include comment from Gov. Joe Lombardo's administration, and again at 4:04 p.m. to add comment from school district superintendents.