News Column

Dems Look to Increase Education Funding in Nevada

February 26, 2013

Anjeanette Damon, Las Vegas Sun

money and diploma

Democrats in the Nevada Legislature want to increase education funding by roughly $310 million -- and that's the floor of what they want to spend.

They would sink money into a variety of programs aimed mostly at early childhood education that they say are critical for improving the state's graduation rate and student performance.

The funding is in addition to the $135 million Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed to put into the public schools budget.

Lawmakers will spend this week discussing the various policy bills in committee.

But how will they pay for it? That's a discussion for a later day.

"After we pass this legislation, it is incumbent upon all of us -- Democrat, Republican and the governor -- to come to the table and work out a plan to make our schools better today, not 10 years from now," Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Las Vegas, said. "We are willing and open to discuss the ideas of how to pay for these proposals, but the Republicans and the governor must come to the table with us."

Here's a look at five ways Democrats want to increase education funding and the chances each proposal might make it through the Legislature:

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Pre-kindergarten classes in at-risk schools: $20 million

Beginning a child's education earlier promotes greater success in later education and job prospects, Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero-Loop said.

Under the Democrats' plan, $20 million would be earmarked for funding pre-kindergarten classes, beginning in fiscal year 2015.

The program would be implemented in a similar fashion to the original full-day kindergarten program. Schools with the largest at-risk student populations would receive funding until the $20 million was spent.

Chances it will pass:

Sandoval has not made pre-kindergarten an emphasis of his education policy, and additional funding is not in his budget. Conservatives also have attacked the idea that early education promotes greater success. In a session with limited money, this program may not make the cut.

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Universal full-day kindergarten: $71 million

Offering full-day kindergarten in only some of Nevada's schools creates an uneven playing field headed into the first grade, Democrats believe.

While Sandoval has proposed $20 million to increase the number of schools with full-day kindergarten to 160 from 114, it is not enough funding to expand the program to all elementary schools.

Included in the $71 million Democrats want to spend to expand the program is about $11 million for classroom space needed to accommodate the influx of kindergartners.

Chances it will pass:

Few dispute that full-day kindergarten is a worthwhile program. Sandoval emphasized it in his State of the State address and proposed budget. If the money is found, the program stands a strong chance of passing.

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Ending social promotion: $50 million

Sandoval and Democrats agree on the policy of requiring third-graders to pass a reading assessment before being promoted to the fourth grade.

What they don't necessarily agree on is whether it will cost money.

Borrowing 2-year-old estimates from school districts on what it would cost to ensure third-graders pass that test, Democrats say a successful program to end social promotion would cost about $50 million.

"You can't just magically end social promotion," one Democratic lawmaker said.

Chances it will pass:

Again, this is all about money. Last session, Sandoval proposed a bill to end social promotion. At the time, he contended it would not cost money -- the test is already paid for, and holding third-graders back a year wouldn't be financially onerous.

Democrats dispute that last part, arguing second-go-round third-graders would make it more difficult to meet low class-size requirements in place for third grade but not fourth grade.

They agree on the policy, but Democrats would have to convince the governor it needs funding.

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Class-size reduction: $95 million

As it's written, state law requires a 15-1 ratio of students to teachers in kindergarten through third grade. But lawmakers have never provided enough funding to actually meet that requirement and since the recession have cut funding even further.

In practice, class sizes are often much larger than what is required in statute.

In a bit of twisted logic, therefore, Democrats may actually propose increasing the mandatory class-size ratios to a level that is possible for the state to fund and for districts to meet. An initial draft of the bill proposed increasing the number from 15 to 20 students, but an amendment is expected later this week that would change that number.

Democrats likely will settle on a number between 15 to 22 students per teacher in the lower grades. The end goal, they say, is to restore the funding that has been cut since 2010.

Chances it will pass:

On this one, there is little bipartisan agreement on the policy, meaning Democrats will have a battle to get the funding for it.

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Resources for English-language learners: $66.5 million

To truly fund what it costs to educate a student learning English as a second language, the state might have to spend as much as $300 million, Democrats estimated. But that figure assumes no other programs are in place -- such as full-day kindergarten or reading assistance.

This session, Democrats want to provide a stronger foundation for English-language learners and have proposed spending $66.5 million.

Chances it will pass:

Republicans have also placed an emphasis on increased funding for English-language learners. Sandoval has proposed $14 million in additional funding and Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson wants to spend an additional $20 million.

Again, there's agreement on the policy. It's just how to pencil out the dollars.



Source: (c)2013 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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