View from the fray

Tax day education

A keen observation by Assemblywoman Genie Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas): “I find it interesting that we’re here on April 15, which is tax day. If we don’t pass some taxes, we are not going to be able to accomplish this goal and the goals of this legislature from years and years ago.”

The topic on the table Tuesday at an Assembly Ways and Means hearing was AB 266, a bill that outlines the many facets of a proposal called “iNVest: Investing in Nevada’s Education, Students and Teachers.” The funding and accountability plan was put together by Nevada’s 17 school district superintendents to introduce the concept of “adequate” funding for schools to the Nevada Legislature.

“This is somewhat of a historical event,” said Clark County Superintendent Carlos Garcia. It’s the first time that all the county administrators and school board trustees met, discussed and actually agreed on a plan that Garcia called “a vision of where our state should be headed.”

The bill calls for millions to make up for cuts in the past three legislative sessions. It requires “basic” support to the schools by building annual inflationary costs for such items as utility and insurance costs into the district budgets. It increases funding for textbooks and supplies by about $50 per kid. It seeks to increase instructors’ pay scales so as to attract and retain an “adequate” work force.

Assemblywoman Chris Guinchigliani (D-Las Vegas) was curious.

“What is the actual fiscal note on this bill?” she asked.

“Do you really want to know?” replied Morse Arberry (D-Las Vegas), the committee chairman.

Speaking on behalf of the group of school superintendents sponsoring the bill, Anne Loring said she would find that information.

In its original form, iNVest called for just under a billion dollars, if every facet were to be implemented. Bill proponents said they weren’t expecting all the dough at once. The governor’s budget, which funds about a third of the plan, is a good start.

“We understand this plan can not be funded in a single stroke,” Loring said. “You asked us to lay out the plan and here it is. Let’s get started.”

Of course, without increased funding, Nevada schools are in trouble. In Washoe County, a worst-case scenario could force schools to cut $20 million in spending. One idea tossed around, changing school bus policy so that elementary students have to walk four miles a day or parents would have to drive them to school, would save $600,000. Then the district would only need to make another $19.4 million in cuts. Imagine.

Dozens of parents, students and educators filled the committee chambers. Many had traveled from as far as Las Vegas to testify in favor of AB 266.

“Today I ask you to do something that goes against the grain of all people—take my money,” said Sheila Moulten of the Clark County Board of Trustees, who said she represents 255,000 students in Clark County. “Take my dollars and give those dollars to generations to come.”

Superintendent Garcia said the funding predicament reminded him of a joke: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

“This session will mark that first bite, that first step,” Garcia said. “Our state definitely doesn’t want any child left behind.”