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Lawmakers OK contentious school funding bill
by Michelle Rindels - Associated Press
May 11, 2011 | 1756 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CARSON CITY (AP) — A testy floor debate and name-calling weren’t enough to change anybody’s mind on a multibillion-dollar education bill to fund K-12 education at a level $714 million more than what the governor recommends.

Both the Senate and Assembly approved the bill along party lines Tuesday, sending it to Gov. Brian Sandoval after it suddenly appeared and zipped in and out of committees in hours. Most bills take weeks to make the trek.

“We believe the legislative budget process should be open and transparent, yet today’s action is contrary to those goals,” said Sandoval’s senior adviser, Dale Erquiaga, shortly after the votes. “Because of this, the governor will not comment until we’ve had a chance to review this legislation in full.”

Sandoval has five days to sign or veto the bill once he receives it.

Republicans stood up against the Democratic majority, arguing there was enough money in the governor’s spending plan and proposed add-backs so teachers wouldn’t lose their jobs. They added that Nevada’s low-ranking schools needed to reform before they got so much funding.

“Some of it’s pride, to not enact real collective bargaining reform,” said Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas. “The majority party is beholden to public-sector unions.”

Democrats pointed to bills their party sponsored to make it easier to fire bad teachers, and charged their counterparts with putting anti-tax ideology before schoolchildren.

“The rookie senator from Green Valley signed the tax pledge. Before the session began, he wasn’t going to vote for anything,” said Sen. Michael Schneider, D-Las Vegas, referring to Roberson.

Among other allocations, the bill applies $2.8 billion of general funds to basic public school support over the next two years, codifying a decision that a joint Senate and Assembly money committee made last week to reverse many of the Republican governor’s proposed education cuts.

Lawmakers rejected plans to sweep $247 million from construction bond debt reserves, cut teacher pay 5 percent and freeze raises based on advanced degrees.

Under the bill, basic per-pupil funding would average $5,542 next school year and $5,655 the following year, up from the current level of $5,192.

“If we don’t invest in our schools now, we will condemn our schools to failure,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. “We can’t afford to shortchange our kids.”

The hearing comes a week after an Economic Forum projected Nevada would take in roughly $270 million more in tax revenues in the upcoming biennium than previously projected in December. Sandoval promised $241 million of that money to K-12 education and suggested restoring almost all basic per-pupil support and fully restoring money for full-day kindergarten.

He also recommended full funding for a pot of money that schools can use to buy textbooks and support gifted and talented programs.

Democrats voted to restore all those programs and more, then proposed a tax package totaling $1.5 billion to pay for it. Republicans have scoffed at the plan, saying it will derail a fledgling economic recovery and is even less necessary after tax revenue predictions went up.

“I said early in the session that I will not accept the governor’s deep cuts to education,” Horsford said. “I didn’t sign a pledge, I took an oath. Today I keep my promise.”
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