Looking ahead on school building
Looking ahead to next year, after the probable failure of the Save Our Schools ballot initiative, parents should demand the Nevada Legislature seriously consider the recommendations from the Policy Report on Nevada School Facilities Construction and Maintenance, published by the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities last February.
The very first recommendation of the Policy Report urges legislators to “consider whether the State should expand its role” in funding capital costs for our schools, going on to suggest new sources of revenue including the novel idea of actually “resourcing the Fund to Assist School Districts in Financing Capital Improvements ([Nevada Revised Statute] 387.3335) or establishing a new statewide funding vehicle.”
The Policy Report also provides a framework for improving how school districts obtain land for new school sites by standardizing the amount of land developers should be required to set aside for schools and forcing local jurisdictions to enforce those rules. The report suggests developers be required to pay all, or at least some, of the costs of infrastructure improvements for the new schools.
Other funding ideas suggested by the Guinn Center include “requiring jurisdictions to collect impact fees to be paid directly to school districts when new development occurs.” You’d find nary a parent of a child in one of Washoe County’s overcrowded schools who would oppose that suggestion, although elected officials tend to ignore this obvious funding source since their campaign contributions depend on the largesse of developers and their financial allies.
There are more ideas for funding of school construction and maintenance in the report. Some are complex and some do not apply to the problem of maintaining older schools in the urban core of Reno and Sparks where facilities are literally crumbling. But the chart at the end of the report says it all.
Nevada, as is our norm, ranks in the bottom group as we are one of 12 states that fund zero percent of the cost of school construction, while six states fund upwards of 80 percent of the cost. Imagine.
None of these ideas will be on your ballot in November, though. Instead, Washoe County voters will be asked to approve an increase in the sales tax of 0.54 percent, thus imposing the highest sales tax in the state on our residents at 8.265 percent.
School district officials are issuing warnings of double sessions and kids waiting at bus stops in the early morning darkness. The Public Schools Overcrowding and Repair Needs Committee—not an arm of the school district—is using increasingly emotional rhetoric to try to shame the voters into a yes vote.
The Committee’s Chairman, Shaun Carey, defended the choice of a sales tax increase on Nevada Newsmakers, saying it “is not as regressive as the label that people often apply. It does not apply to food unless you are in a restaurant. The greatest cost to a person is actually when they buy clothes.”
Setting aside the fact that by any economist’s measure, the sales tax is an extremely regressive tax, since it takes a larger percentage of income from the poor than the rich, you almost have to laugh at the assumption that people living in poverty or seniors on fixed incomes only need to buy food and clothes. Carey goes on to say, apparently with no hint of irony, that the Committee “tried to find [a tax] that had the least impact on those with the least ability to pay in our community.”
But saddling the poor and the middle class with more regressive taxes is not the answer to fixing our crumbling schools, especially when there are more appropriate funding sources available.
Voters need to demand the Legislature read the Guinn Center report and step up to resolve this dilemma. To Save Our Schools, we need to shift the tax burden back where it belongs.