As the Nevada Legislature races towards Sine Die, the budget is once again front and center, specifically K-12 school funding. Is there extra money to boost public education funding? Or will that money be used to correct the currently unconstitutional funding mechanism for Adam Laxalt and Brian Sandoval’s school voucher scheme or Education Savings Accounts?
We dig deeper into the education budget below.
Early this month, the Nevada Economic Forum announced a $140 million budget surplus over the next two years. Sounds great, right? But what if the state actually doesn’t have this much?
Following the Economic Forum forecast, I spoke with Meredith Levine, Director of Economic Policy at the Guinn Center. She cast doubt on the veracity of that $140 million figure.
“Is there really this extra money? Don’t we have to make up for overruns?” – Meredith Levine, Guinn Center
Several budget bills have surfaced to make up for unexpected shortfalls in the 2015-17 budget. Levine expects the $44 million surplus from the current biennium to be used to fill these holes.
That brings the state’s surplus back under $96 million. But with the #NVLeg money committees poised to reject many of Governor Brian Sandoval’s (R) proposed mental health care cuts, that takes just over $10 million off the table. And with Governor Sandoval wanting slightly more funds for higher education, that may take another $15 million off the table.
So how much does that leave for K-12 schools?
“We see something in the range of $70 million for K-12 education.” -Meredith Levine
What can possibly be done with $70 million? Levine cast doubt on any large-scale proposal. “Realistically, I’m not sure how much it can do to change weighted funding formula. It can be targeted to Victory or Zoom schools. It can go to schools that are not currently classified as Victory or Zoom schools.”
Chris Daly from the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) voiced a more optimistic take on the situation. “The Legislature can come up with an additional $100 million for public education. That would be progress.” But how can $70 million become $100 million or more?
“There’s a $60 million line item in [the Governor’s recommended budget] for ESA vouchers. We’ve been asking the money committees to move that line item from vouchers to public education.” – Chris Daly, NSEA
Though the 2015 session resulted in historic tax reform that netted more money for schools, Nevada’s public education system is still underfunded. It also resulted in the ESA voucher program that will set aside state tax dollars for private schools if activated. The ESA voucher program has been on hold since the Nevada Supreme Court’s September 2016 ruling forbidding use of public school budget accounts to fund it.
Daly spoke about what Nevada schools can do with $100 million more in funds. “Folks are realistically looking at ways to enhance programs for students in need.” Public education experts from across the spectrum of advocacy groups and think tanks agree that more resources are needed for English Language Learners (ELL), working poor communities, gifted and talented students, and other students with special needs. Daly asked why the Governor and the Legislature can’t make more progress this session.
Here’s why the ESA voucher debate matters: Some $60 million in potential public education funding is on the line.
With Governor Sandoval’s proposed marijuana excise tax being the only major stream of new tax revenue being considered this legislative session, the state only has so much revenue to invest in education. How will the state do so?
Will Nevada build upon 2015’s successful push to boost investment in public education? Or will the state divert public funds to ESA vouchers to be used in private schools? That’s the 60 million dollar question in this final month of the legislative session.