Schools spend about $130 per student on books, supplies and other materials

The amount Nevada schools spend for instructional materials jumped about 30 percent in fiscal 1999 but still comes to only $130 a year for each student said a legislative audit of school district budgets released Wednesday.

Legislative auditor Gary Crews said the amount spent in each county school district varies because school districts are in charge of their own budgets, but the total was generally more than the state provided for textbooks, instructional supplies, library materials and software.

The 58-page audit made a series of recommendations, including that the state Department of Education improve its annual financial report on the districts and make sure districts are using approved textbooks.

It also suggests the department set policies on whether instructional materials other than textbooks should go through the same approval process as books, and help districts adopt policies regarding availability of texts and for requesting money and supplies from parents.

Department officials, however, rejected all the audit recommendations, saying they can't do some of them without additional staff and shouldn't do the rest because they would tread on local authority.

Superintendent of Education Mary Peterson said auditors showed "a basic misunderstanding of the K-12 education system in Nevada."

"The report does a good job of identifying needs, but the recommendations don't follow from the report," she said.

She cited a statement in the audit saying the department is responsible for administration of elementary and secondary programs at the state level.

"The state Department of Education has no authority or jurisdiction over decisions made at the district level on how much money to spend on textbooks or other instructional supplies and whether or not parents are to be asked to make up the difference," she said.

Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, a member of the audit subcommittee, questioned the finding that 5 percent of students are affected by textbook shortages and that 42 percent of classes in the state use materials other than textbooks.

He also objected to the finding that 35 percent of classrooms have enough books for one class full of students and keep the books in that room to service several classes of students.

He said that means those students don't have a book to take home each night and asked why more money isn't spent on books.

Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said a lack of textbooks can be blamed for poor learning.

"Of course they can't read and write," he said. "Sixty-three percent of them can't take their book home."

Peterson said local districts can only spend the revenue the state allows them.

"They can only step up to the plate with what they have," she said.

She defended the Nevada Plan, which divides state money to local school districts on a per-student basis to make sure rich and poor districts are fairly funded. But, she said, there isn't enough money for books and supplies.

"We do a very good job of distributing very little money equitably," she said.

Assemblyman John Marvel, R-Battle Mountain, asked whether the money for textbooks is protected from being claimed for salary increases.

Peterson and department financial deputy Doug Thunder said it is not.

"If you fence off some of these funds, maybe it would protect them," said Marvel.


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