Petitions to increase education funding filed

Teachers on Monday filed petitions asking voters to require Nevada at least match the national average for public school funding.

In addition, officials of the AFL-CIO filed petitions bearing more than 80,000 names to raise the minimum wage for Nevadans by $1 an hour.

The school-funding initiative, if approved, would require the state to increase public education budgets by $650 million a year, said Nevada State Education Association Executive Director Ken Lange.

That is 11Ú2 times the size of the tax increase approved by the 2003 Legislature and Gov. Kenny Guinn.

Lange said voters in all 17 Nevada counties supported the "national average" proposal. He said nearly 109,000 voters signed the petition - more than double the 51,337 needed to qualify it for the ballot.

Lange said a large portion of the money would go to increase teacher salaries.

"We don't make any apologies for that," he said. "We need to put some of these resources into attracting and maintaining quality teachers.

"Research shows that the most important element in the quality of education is a quality teacher in the classroom," he said.

Nevada currently funds education at $5,813 per student, according to the teachers' association. It says the national average is more than $7,500 per student.

The ballot question would give the state until 2012 to meet the requirement, allowing the state to phase in the tax increases or budget shifts necessary to provide the added funding.

The school-funding and minimum-wage petitions were filed with county clerks just one day before the deadline to make the November ballot. In order to qualify, an initiative must collect not only 10 percent of the total number who voted in the last general election, but that percentage in each of 13 of the state's 17 counties.

The wage petition would raise the minimum hourly rate in Nevada to $6.15. According to spokesman Gail Tuzzolo, it would help 51,000 Nevada families.

Like the education-funding proposal, the wage measure is expected to easily qualify for the ballot after those not registered to vote are removed from the list of signers.

The two initiatives join the "Education First" ballot question, which asks voters to mandate that the Legislature fund public schools before funding any other portion of the state budget.

That was begun in reaction to the decision by Assembly leadership in the 2003 Legislature to pass other parts of the budget then tie the education funding to taxes in an attempt to force hold outs to support the tax package.

Supporters of that question also turned in more than double the number of signatures needed to make the ballot.

In addition, the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana is expected to file its petition today - the final day for filing initiative petitions. Organizers say they also have more than enough signatures to make the ballot.

The marijuana question asks voters to legalize the possession and use of up to 1 ounce of marijuana. But it calls for tough prison terms for selling marijuana to anyone under age 18 and for driving under the influence of the drug. It also sets up a system to license stores to cultivate and sell pot.

There are several other potential ballot questions being circulated, including ones to repeal the tax package approved in 2003 and to limit future property tax increases being pursued on behalf of Incline Village residents. It wasn't known whether those drives - which started closer to today's deadline - would meet the requirements to get on the ballot.

Contact Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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