Saying Nevadans are being greedy and shortsighted, Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, Thursday asked the Finance Committee to put $1.35 billion more into public school budgets.
"We're in a race in this state, a race to the bottom in how we fund education," he said. "Because of our greed and selfishness, we don't look to the future, we don't invest in our future."
He said Nevada has slipped from 38th or 40th in per-pupil funding among the states to 47th and could be 50th by the next legislative session unless something is done.
He charged that this legislative session is "in a race to give back money and not to invest in the future."
But Schneider was challenged by Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Finance Vice Chairman Bob Beers.
"We've got four different groups, at least, that define the national average," said Raggio. He said lawmakers would have to first figure out what is the national average and how to accurately calculate it.
"NEA (the National Education Association) and AFT (American Federation of Teachers) both say our teacher compensation is above average," said Beers. "How is it possible our compensation could be above average and our funding be 49th?"
Schneider said part of the problem is that districts like Clark have to take money from their construction funds to use for operational costs such as libraries.
"They're robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said.
Beers said the average starting pay for teachers in Nevada is $32,169, which, he said, is higher than any surrounding state except California. He said Nevada's funding, according to the federal government's national Center for Educational statistics, ranks 25th in the nation, not 49th.
"But I can't argue we're not producing the results we're all wanting to see," he said.
Raggio echoed that sentiment asking how Nevada could rank at the bottom when it pays higher than the national average in salaries.
Schneider was supported by Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, but she said the issue forces tough choices. She pointed out that Schneider, like herself and Raggio, voted for the property-tax-relief bill which cut $44 million out of school budgets for the next two years.
Carlos Garcia, superintendent of the Clark County School District, said the figures he has indicate Nevada is far below average and has class sizes in high schools ranging up to 40 students. He said Nevada's ranking for per pupil funding is down in the 40s.
"The debate in America is no longer equity," he said. "What we're debating now is adequacy."
The committee took no action on the bill.
- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.