Lawmakers told local share of special education growing

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, asked state education officials Tuesday to figure out what the federal No Child Left Behind Act will cost Nevada.

The issue was raised last week when Nevada's two U.S. senators disagreed about the financial impact of the Bush Administration's education act.

Democratic Sen. Harry Reid listed it as one of the "most egregious unfunded mandates" the federal government has imposed on the states saying it will cost Nevada millions. Republican Sen. John Ensign said it won't cost the states because there are millions of dollars in the bill.

The issue is important to the states because the legislation mandates extensive testing and other costly requirements for public schools nationwide.

"I talked to Sen. Ensign who indicated it was the intention of Congress when they passed that measure to provide funding," said Raggio. "I want to know what the actual shortage of funding is."

Raggio said Ensign promised him he would do something about it if there isn't enough money in the bill to cover the federal mandates

"I want to take the senator up on that commitment if there is an actual shortage of funding," he said.

Deputy Superintendent of Education Doug Thunder said that analysis will take some time but that they will work with legislative staff to figure out exactly what the financial impact of No Child Left Behind is to Nevada.

Raggio isn't the only Republican hedging on backing the federal act. Gov. Kenny Guinn said after Reid's speech he too has been told the money to cover the mandates has been included in the act. But he said he also will be seeking an independent analysis from his education and budget staffs as well as through the National Association of Governors meeting this week in Washington, D.C.

Lawmakers were told the financial burden of providing financial education is growing heavier on local school districts while the state's contribution falls behind.

In 1988, state funds paid 56 percent of the cost of special education. That dropped to 37 percent by 1994 when state funding totaled $40.88 million and local funding was $69.33 million.

By fiscal 2002, according to Gloria Dopf of the department of education, the state share was just 29.5 percent -- $68.4 million to $163.3 million in local dollars.

"Over time, the unit funding has not kept pace with the actual number of units (classrooms) operating or with the growth in teachers' salaries and benefits," said the department report to the legislative money committees.

Raggio protested and said those totals don't add in the federal money and regular per-pupil state contribution.

"I'm interested in knowing how we are funding the total cost of special education," he said.

"Somewhere in there, I think we're going a pretty fair job of funding," he said.

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, agreed they need to see the full amount that does to special-education students. She said part of the problem is that the federal government, which mandated funding for special education, originally promised 40 percent of the costs. She pointed out that federal funding is just 13 percent.

Giunchigliani, a former special-education teacher, said after the meeting both state and federal funding are below where they should be, putting more of the burden to fund those programs on local districts, which already are financially strapped.


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