Basic state support for schools will rise $300 under Guinn budget | NevadaAppeal.com
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Basic state support for schools will rise $300 under Guinn budget

by Geoff Dornan, Appeal Capitol Bureau

Basic state support for public schools will increase $300 per pupil to $4,291 by 2005 under the budget proposed by Gov. Kenny Guinn.

That is a total increase over the next two years of 7.5 percent in a budget which makes up nearly 40 percent of the total state general fund budget.

Fifty dollars per pupil is set aside for textbooks, instructional supplies and technology, including computers.

Deputy Superintendent of Education Doug Thunder presented the spending plan Wednesday to a joint session of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees. Altogether, the governor has requested that total state support for kindergarten-through-12th-grade education be $1.83 billion in fiscal 2004 and $1.93 billion in fiscal 2005.

The budget includes a 2 percent raises Guinn promised teachers at the end of the 2001 Legislature — the only direct raises in the proposed budget this session.

Thunder said the total number of public school students is expected to increase by more than 20,000 over the next two years — most of them in rapidly growing Southern Nevada.

That is in sharp contrast to 10 of Nevada’s 17 counties — all rural — which are projecting lower total enrollments over the next two years. Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, said he represents eight of those counties and protested the governor’s plan to reduce the “hold harmless” period for school districts with declining populations.

“Hold harmless” guarantees those districts they won’t lose funding for two years, even if they have fewer students. Guinn wants to cut that to one year. Rhoads said Humboldt County, for example, would lose about $500,000.

While the budget includes only minimal pay raises, it does offer a $3,000 pay increase for teachers who are specialists in hard-to-fill areas, including math, English as a second language and special education, and $2,000 for teachers willing to work in high-risk schools.

Lawmakers were told a teacher with one of those specialties who teaches in a high-risk school should be able to get both bonuses — adding $5,000 to his or her pay.

The plan to offer full-day kindergarten in about one-third of Nevada schools drew questions from Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, who said that that effectively commits the state to eventually expand the program to all kindergarten classes. That would cost up to $110 million a year.

Former special-education teacher Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, applauded the idea of full-time kindergarten for at-risk students — although she said it should be provided to students who fit that definition, not just to select schools.

The budget also includes provisions allowing school districts flexibility in using class-size-reduction money. At present, all but one district is required to provide maximum class sizes of 16 students in first and second grades and 19 students in third. In higher grades, classes average in the high 20s to more than 30 students.

Elko has used a pilot program three years that provides 22 students or less in all classes from first through sixth grades with its class-size-reduction money. Reports say the program is a success, and Guinn wants to allow all other school districts to do the same.