Senators cut $73.4 million from public school funding

The Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees are nearly $240 million apart on budgets to fund Nevada public schools for the next two years.

Gov. Kenny Guinn's proposed $3.23 billion education budget -- $1.96 billion of it from the general fund -- was already $384.3 million higher than the current two-year budget.

While the Senate committee voted Wednesday to cut a total of $73.4 million from that, the Assembly committee voted to add $164.2 million for 2004 and 2005.

The difference: $237.6 million.

The biggest single difference is the decision by Ways and Means to give teachers a 4 percent raise in each of the coming two years instead of 2 percent next year. That added $37.5 million to the budget in fiscal 2004 and $119 million in fiscal 2005.

The next major difference comes from the Senate's decision to relax the rules on using class-size reduction money. While the Assembly voted to maintain the current 16:1 ratio in first and second grades and 19:1 in third grade, with no support in grades 4 and 5, the Senate voted to allow school districts to use a 22:1 ratio for first through fifth grades.

The change reduces the Senate budget for class-size reduction a total of $46 million over the next two years.

Another significant difference -- $14.5 million over the biennium -- comes from the Assembly decision to cover rising costs of teacher health benefits. Guinn budgeted a 10 percent annual increase. Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, said the increase will be closer to 18 percent a year. They added in enough to cover 15 percent as a compromise.

Senators didn't increase that part of the budget.

Both houses agreed to eliminate Guinn's proposed full-day kindergarten. The Assembly voted to put $6 million back in which school districts can apply for to fund programs.

Finally, the Assembly voted to add five days to the school year beginning in 2005. That will cost an estimated $11 million per day.

"Obviously we have to resolve the differences," Giunchigliani said. "That's part of the process. But once we find out where the philosophical differences are as compared to the cost of it, then we'll start to make some progress."

Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, voted against the Senate cuts saying he supports a 4 percent pay raise or more for teachers. Assemblymen Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, and John Marvel, R-Battle Mountain, opposed the spending increases by the Assembly committee.


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