By Ryan Tarinelli
CARSON CITY — Senate Democrats rolled out a bill Monday that aims to overhaul how Nevada allocates education funding, prompting one teachers group to level sharp criticism and argue the proposal would be devastating to the state’s rural areas.
Lawmakers said they want to revamp the school funding process for certain children who need extra support, such as students who are learning English or receive free or reduced-price meals. Democrats in both legislative chambers have identified the effort as a session priority.
Democratic Sen. Mo Denis has said the 52-year-old school funding formula has only been tweaked since its creation and was designed when the student population was less diverse and faced different needs.
“We’ve seen that there is an additional cost for English language learners, for special ed, for free-and-reduced lunch kids,” he said. “It costs us more and yet we’ve never taken that into consideration.”
Supporters argue the measure will bring more transparency to how state education funds are spent.
The Nevada State Education Association expressed strong disappointment.
“Simply put, no new education funding plan will work without new and additional revenue,” the union said in a statement. “This plan simply moves money from one area of Nevada to another, creating new winners and losers.”
Jeremy Aguero, a principal analyst with Applied Analysis who assisted on the bill, said Monday that no school district will get less money next year than it got last year under the plan.
“Every effort is being made to hold individual districts harmless at current funding levels,” he said. The first step in addressing funding is to look at the formula, he said.
Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, a Democrat, said they are looking at hearing the bill early next week.
Republican Sen. James Settelmeyer said Monday he did not yet have time to read through the entire bill, but said so far he is “not impressed.”
The measure comes one day after a Las Vegas-area teachers union announced members had authorized a strike during the next school year if demands for pay raises and resources are not met.
The Clark County Education Association ramped up pressure on state lawmakers to increase funding and announced Sunday that thousands of teachers had voted to strike. Teacher strikes are illegal under state law, and the union could be fined up to $50,000 a day if a strike occurs.
Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak’s budget outlines a 3% cost of living pay increase for public school employees and a 2% merit pay raise.
The Kenny Guinn Center for Policy Priorities estimated that the governor’s budget is short $107.5 million in providing those increases while keeping per-pupil funding the same.
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara said he will keep advocating for improving teaching conditions but take necessary legal action to prevent a strike.
John Vellardita, executive director of the union, said it made a conscious effort to support Sisolak because of his education platform.
“We’re beyond promises now, we’re looking for results,” he said.