Lawmakers study Nevada's K-12 school funding plans

Nevada lawmakers wrapped up their first week of reviewing Gov. Kenny Guinn's proposed $4.81 billion, two-year budget with a look Friday at his K-12 public education funding plans.

Obstacles to the governor's all-day kindergarten proposal continued to emerge, as state Department of Education finance chief Doug Thunder disclosed the $24 million budget recommendation did not include increased staffing for the plan.

Responding to questions from Senate and Assembly money committee members, Thunder said the program would have to "make do" temporarily.

"But it's one of those pressures that eventually we'd have to come back and request additional staffing," he said.

Guinn's education spending plan for the next two fiscal years allocates $1.72 billion, or about 36 percent of all state funds, for elementary and secondary schools.

Lawmakers, in their third hearing this week on the schools budget, also questioned the department's grant-writing efforts and development of a student test score database first proposed by the Legislature in 1995.

The database -- containing information from the state's 340,000 students -- will help Nevada compare school districts and identify poorly performing schools.

State schools chief Jack McLaughlin said that despite continued resistance from some districts, the database would be ready by the end of March. "It will be done," he pledged.

Guinn's two-year budget includes $2.8 million for finalizing and maintaining the database. Several legislators planned a meeting with Thunder about its cost.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske asked the Department of Education to analyze its efforts to win federal and private grants.

"I cannot emphasize enough the dollars that we lose out on yearly because we don't even apply for them," said Cegavske, R-Las Vegas.

Besides the kindergarten concerns, lawmakers questioned costs of two other programs for younger children.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, asked for an explanation of a pre-kindergarten education program launched last year. It currently serves about 880 3- to 4-year-olds at a cost of $3,600 per child.

Department of Education leaders said the per-pupil cost would drop in coming years. They requested $5.8 million for the program.

The governor's budget also includes $600,000 for a "Classroom on Wheels" bus targeting at-risk preschoolers. Assemblywoman Vonne Chowning, D-North Las Vegas, expressed concern about a lack of accountability for the program.

"I hate to say it should go away but, after all, if we don't track it..." Chowning said.


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