RENO — Crediting Brian Sandoval with significant advances in improving K-12 education in Nevada, Attorney General Adam Laxalt said this week he wants to continue and expand upon that legacy.
“Governor Sandoval has done a great job in the last few sessions in putting forth a number of reforms that are starting to improve education and I’m committed to supporting those reforms,” he said in an interview this week. “I’m also committed to the funding that’s in place for the educational system.”
But he made clear his definition of K-12 funding doesn’t include the commerce tax that’s budgeted to bring in $381 million during the current biennium.
Opponents have charged eliminating that tax would punch a big hole in K-12 education budgets but Laxalt, the Republican frontrunner in the race to succeed Sandoval, said the economy will cover that gap.
He said that’s only 2.3 percent of the General Fund budget for the biennium.
“I’m very confident that between the growth of revenue for economic growth along with our marijuana tax and finding some efficiencies in state government, that we’re going to be able to make up that gap,” he said.
Thus far, his education proposal is the only major initiative he has announced.
Laxalt said his plans focus on, “making sure our educational system is better coordinated with our workforce.”
He said there are great opportunities for young Nevadans in career and technical, vocational fields and those programs need to be expanded and fully funded.
He also said he’s committed to providing as many opportunities for school choice as possible including funding the controversial Educational Savings Accounts that were blocked in the 2017 Legislature by Democrats who describe them as vouchers.
He said he’s committed to the state’s charter schools, “which have been a huge success in our state.”
When it was pointed out the Charter School Authority just recently voted to terminate the charter of Carson City’s Argent Academy and is looking at possibly doing the same to a southern Nevada charter they say is chronically under performing, he said he would address that as well.
“It’s going to be a priority to speed the process for opening charter schools, but there also needs to be a faster process for closing charter schools, to hold them accountable,” he said.
Laxalt said he wants to double the Opportunity Scholarships program he described as, “an amazing opportunity for underprivileged kids to pick schools that match their needs.”
But he said he will hold those programs accountable to ensure they’re performing. And that includes holding students accountable under Sandoval’s Read by Three program.
“If you can’t read by third grade, you will be held back,” he said.
He said he wants to double the amount teachers can get reimbursed each year for out-of-pocket expenses to $500.
To provide more teachers in Nevada, he said he wants to create the Tomorrow’s Teachers Program that would award 500 scholarships to education majors to pay for four years of college on the condition they teach at least four years in Nevada schools.
He said he anticipates a better relationship with federal lands administrators than in the past now that the Trump administration is in power in Washington.
“The new Secretary of the Interior has changed the tone certainly for the BLM and has told his agents they need to be a partner with Nevada,” he said.
He said if elected, he would sit down with federal regulators and try to work with them to enable growth and economic development in rural Nevada.
Again crediting efforts by Sandoval, Laxalt said, “The governor has done a great job making us a veteran-friendly state. I want to make us the most veteran-empowering state in the country.”
Laxalt said he anticipates a good working relationship with lawmakers and, specifically Democrats, if elected. He pointed to the bipartisan cooperation he experienced in the 2017 session in getting legislation and funding to eliminate the 8,000 backlog of rape test kits. He also pointed to the bipartisan support for efforts to bring the opioid epidemic under control. He said there was also strong bipartisan support for his new Elder Fraud Unit.
He said in dealing with those issues, he has also reached out to law enforcement across Nevada to build relationships and work on issues such as the opioid epidemic.
“Before I got elected, there was no working relationship between the AG’s office and law enforcement,” he said.
He said his office works closely with local law enforcement on a variety of issues.
Laxalt said he’s confident he’s prepared to handle the state budget. He said he already manages a large budget at the Attorney General’s office, which has dealings with every state agency.
He said he learned his leadership skills in the military where he was deployed to Iraq and helped manage hundreds of enemy prisoners.
“Military experience is a big part of me learning to be a leader,” he said.