Nevada Legislature: Committees OK most of Sandoval’s K-12 agenda | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada Legislature: Committees OK most of Sandoval’s K-12 agenda

The legislative money committees on Saturday approved the vast majority of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed education budget including $2.83 billion in spending from the Distributive School Account, the budget that provides K-12 schools with their per-pupil funding.

The DSA includes other revenues but $2.2 billion of the total is General Fund money — the largest single account in the General Fund.

One of the larger cuts was to the Class Size Reduction budget, which was proposed to total $350.9 million. Lawmakers increased the maximum size of classes in grades one and two by one to 17 students and, in grade three, by one to 20 students. That freed up $56.2 million over the biennium.

Joint Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, suggested lawmakers pump most of that cash into the base per pupil amount, increasing that amount by $40 apiece to the proposed $5,716 in the governor’s budget for all 455,124 projected K-12 students this coming biennium.

The remaining $8 million, he said, should be put into the Career and Technical Education programs.

The combined committee members agreed.

As they went systematically through the various new programs on the governor’s list, lawmakers chopped about $100 million in General Fund dollars out of the total $3.5 billion package.

Budget Director Jim Wells said about $28 million of that was a correction in the full-day kindergarten budgets where certain costs were double-counted.

The increases requested by the governor and approved by the committees would provide full-day kindergarten classes to all Nevada students by the end of 2017. That will add $53.5 million to the current budgets for a total of about $100 million over the biennium.

Chief of Staff Mike Willden said the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees made about $70 million in “hard cuts.”

One of the first programs cut back was the anti-bullying program Sandoval had budgeted for $36.3 million over the biennium. Lawmakers basically cut that budget in half at the suggestion of Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas. He was joined by Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka who urged members to “move slowing saying “when we get to the end if we don’t have the dollars this is a program that can more easily be trimmed.”

Sandoval’s Nevada Ready 21 program to put laptops and computer notebooks in the hands of students across the state was proposed for $23.2 million a year.

“We probably need to scale it back,” said Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, although she emphasized electronic devices is the wave of the future for schools. Assemblymen Derek Armstrong, R-Henderson, and Chris Edwards, R-Las Vegas, agreed saying the devices could eventually reduce the purchases of textbooks. But they said among other things they were concerned many of the electronic devices would be broken or just disappear.

Kirkpatrick moved to cut that funding to a total of $8.2 million a year plus the existing $1.8 million annually for a total of $20 million over the biennium.

They cut the $5 million a year for underperforming schools to $2.5 million a year but approved the $5 million a year infusion of new money into Gifted and Talented student programs.

They pumped $25 million a year into the Remedial Trust Fund Zoom School program providing extra help for English Language Learners and put another $25 million a year into the Victory Schools program serving underperforming elementary, middle and high schools statewide.

They voted to create a Special Education contingency Fund to help out small school districts with the high cost of serving students with disabilities.