Nevada Democrats unveiled education priorities for the upcoming legislative session Wednesday, calling for early development programs for at-risk students and expansion of all-day kindergarten.The “Building or a Better Nevada” plan also calls for reduced class sizes, an end to “social promotion” of students and a revamping of Nevada’s K-12 public education funding formula, Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis and incoming Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick announced at a news conference in Las Vegas.While the lawmakers couldn’t estimate what it would cost to implement the plan, Denis, D-Las Vegas, said the policies “will have a lasting impact on our education system.”“We’re looking at those (cost) figures,” Denis said by telephone. “The important thing here, these are things that we need to do.”“We want to make sure we have the discussion,” he said. Lawmakers convene their 2013 regular session on Feb. 4.“Early education translates to a strong workforce, better jobs and a community we can all be proud of,” said Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas.Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who has made education reform a cornerstone of his administration, will discuss his own legislative goals when he gives his “State of the State” address next week in Carson City.Victor Joecks, spokesman for Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank in Las Vegas, noted Sandoval submitted a bill in 2011 to end social promotion but it died in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.“If Democrats follow through on their promise this session and enact this effective reform, they will merit genuine applause,” he said.But Joecks said the other proposals for early education and mandating full-day kindergarten produce only minimal and temporary gains and would be a waste of taxpayer money. He instead advocated school choice to raise student achievement.Class sizes by law are generally capped at a student-teacher ratio of 15-1 in kindergarten through third grade, though there are provisions for districts to come up with their own plans subject to approval by the state Department of Education. Over the years waivers have been granted because budget cuts and the state’s fiscal crisis during the recession.Denis said the funding formula for Nevada schools needs to reflect the higher costs of educating children with special needs and English language learners.An interim study released in September cited figures from the National Education Association that said Nevada over the past decade has consistently ranked in the lowest quartile for per-pupil expenditures and other funding, sometimes ranking at the bottom of states.The study also said Nevada is one of 14 states that do not provide additional funding for low-income, at risk students.Republican Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson of Las Vegas also has called for more funding for English language learner programs in Clark County. Roberson last fall said he would seek $20 million a year to fund such programs for more than 50,000 Clark County students who are not proficient in English.
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