School chiefs get heat for $1B iNVest program | NevadaAppeal.com

School chiefs get heat for $1B iNVest program

AMANDA FEHD
Associated Press Writer

School superintendents clashed with the Nevada Senate’s Republican leader over education funding on Tuesday, as an Assembly Democratic leader renewed his attack on the governor’s K-12 education budget.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, was not optimistic during a joint Senate-Assembly budget meeting about the Legislature’s ability to fund a dozen extra education programs that would cost $1 billion over two years. The programs are part of the educator’s iNVest, or Investing in Nevada’s Education, Students and Teachers, effort.

The school chiefs pushed their iNVest proposal for the third session in a row, asking for extra money for full-day kindergarten, career and technical education, textbooks, salary increases, health benefits, hiring incentives, and English language learning programs.

Raggio said that every session he asks the same question: What iNVest program would get priority in the event that the Legislature can’t fund all of them?

The state is facing a projected revenue shortfall of between $110 million and $130 million over the coming two years, and as a result many budget add-ons are now being deleted.

Also Tuesday, Assemblyman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, again challenged Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons over proposed funding for K-12 education.

Arberry wrote the governor that the executive budget does not provide the same enhancements to K-12 education as it does to higher education and human services.

The governor has questioned Arberry’s comments, saying his budget plan increases per-pupil spending by 13 percent over the coming two years. He added there’s $81 million for K-12 schools to replace lost county revenue. Under law, the state has no choice but to replace that lost revenue.

During the joint Assembly-Senate budget hearing, Raggio pushed a school empowerment program as a way to use existing education money in a better way. Empowerment programs allows schools to decide what needs funding the most.

Carson City schools chief Mary Pierczynski, speaking for the Nevada Association of School Superintendents, was not able to prioritize the programs or suggest how they would be funded.

“I wish we had all the answer for the money. We don’t. But it is our professional responsibility to bring to you those things we know we need to improve student achievement,” she said.

Richard Siegel, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said both Democratic and Republican school funding proposals were inadequate at a time when the state is experience unprecedented private wealth.

Siegel said the state’s top CEOs, who complain about being unable to recruit Nevada workers because of the state’s lackluster education, should come and give input when budgets are being discusses.

“There is so much wealth, and yet there is so much poverty in K-12,” Siegel said, adding that percentage of the state budget that goes to education has dropped proportionately with a rise in the percentage of prison funding.