Nevada Legislature: K-12 needs $200 million more needed just to keep up

Rising enrollments and teacher step increases will require the state to pump more than $200 million more into the K-12 education budget just to maintain current levels of service.

Superintendent of Education Dale Erquiaga told a joint session of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees Thursday rising enrollments will cost $36.3 million in 2016, $69.7 million in 2017 for a total of $106 million.

He said step salary increases will cost $97.77 million over the biennium plus another $40 million for health insurance and retirement premium increases.

In addition to that, the governor’s proposed budget includes $400-plus million in new money to improve the academic performance of Nevada’s K-12 education system..

Those figures prompted Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, to say there are political interest groups questioning the governor’s approach, specifically the need for added funding.

“Instead, they argue reform alone is all that’s necessary,” he said. “They base that argument on the fact educational funding has increased over the past few decades without any improvement in outcomes.”

Erquiaga said the governor’s approach is a combination of investment and reform because both are needed to fix the state’s ailing education system.

“It’s easy to say the failures of the past indicate we shouldn’t do any more until they figure it out,” he said. “There are children behind those numbers. They shouldn’t have to wait until we figure it out.”

He said those who present “a single solution, either invest or reform, are simplistic.” Erquiaga said this is “a multi-front war.”

K-12 education is the largest single chunk of the General Fund budget at just under $3.5 billion.

The proposed budget starts with $140 million to modernize the Nevada Plan that sets out per pupil funding provided by the state. Rather than a flat per pupil guarantee, the idea is to adjust funding for special populations such as English Language Learners and Special Education students. The process would begin by adding funding to the formula for special education students who, Erquiaga said, typically need about double the per-pupil funding other students require.

He said it’s wanted to begin with special education because that funding is still provided in “units” — essentially a classroom with a teacher.

“The problem is we no longer teach special education that way,” he said.

Unlike in the 1960s and 1970s, he said those students are now integrated into mainstream classrooms so the entire funding mechanism needs to be revamped.

Sandoval proposed another $122.2 million for early learner programs, $69 million for high school programs and $76 million for what the administration describes as “investing in change.” That contains the programs to try to turn around and fix the state’s 78 under-performing schools.

Erquiaga made the statements on the opening of several days lawmakers will spend reviewing the state’s education budgets.

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