Nevada lawmakers debate education policy

A Senate-Assembly budget panel balked Friday at Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn's proposal to have the state cover the $6.5 million cost of portable classrooms for day-long kindergarten classes.

The legislators agreed that the state shouldn't pay for actual classrooms. Per-pupil costs for the state's K-12 schools already are covered by the state.

"It seems to me that we probably shouldn't go there, as far as the portables," Sen. Raymond Rawson, R-Las Vegas, said.

Guinn has proposed day-long kindergarten classes at a cost of $24 million over the coming two years. That includes the $6.5 million for the portable classrooms.

The budget panel also discussed but didn't act on proposals that would reduce class sizes in kindergartens to a 16-to-1 student-teacher ratio, at a cost of about $25 million.

Also debated was Guinn's proposal for $2,000 stipends to teachers and administrators who work in at-risk schools and $3,000 stipends to math, special education, english as a second language teachers and psychologists.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, defended the proposals, saying they represent a "hill to die for." He said he'd oppose any plan that doesn't include teacher stipends.

"The best teachers at at-risk schools move out," Raggio said. "You need some kind of incentive to keep the better teachers, the more highly qualified teachers at the at-risk schools."

Assemblyman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, questioned whether the stipends were enough to attract the needed teachers, and Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, asked whether the state should commit the money without being sure it would work.

Lawmakers also expressed concern over efforts to earmark money for textbooks and supplies, a concept Guinn is backing in his budget proposal with $50 per student for books.

Rawson suggested establishing a separate budget item specifying the $18 million in Guinn's proposal for textbooks is for books and supplies. Under the governor's plan, the money would be part of general state aid, which the school districts could use any way they wish.

Education Department finance chief Doug Thunder said lawmakers should earmark the funds if they want to ensure they're used for books.

"It's virtually impossible to say this line item has to be spent in this way (if it's included in general state aid)," Thunder said.

Rawson and Giunchigliani also floated the idea of extending the school day and the school year. They said the idea should be considered in the near future.


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