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September 2, 2015

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Senate passes education reforms in sign that budget deal is near

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AP Photo/Cathleen Allison

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, and Minority Leader Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, talk on the Senate floor Monday, May 30, 2011, at the Legislature in Carson City. Lawmakers continue to work with the governor on the state budget, including talks to extend taxes that were set to expire June 30.

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Nevada Senate Republicans work in a caucus Monday, May 30, 2011, at the Legislature in Carson City as they faced a final bill deadline.

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CARSON CITY -- In the final minutes before a key deadline Monday night, Senate Democrats passed large-scale changes to the education system, a compromise with Republicans and Gov. Brian Sandoval that brought the Nevada Legislature closer to an end.

The bills, as amended Monday night, would put teachers who receive two years of negative evaluations back on probationary status; it would also require school districts to consider factors other than seniority when laying off teachers. The Assembly still needs to consider and approve the education bills before they go to the governor’s desk. Sandoval indicated he would sign the bills in a tweet sent Tuesday morning.

Democrats in the Assembly also passed a key collective bargaining reform bill that changes the way disputes between governments and unions are mediated and requires local governments and school districts to report estimated costs of newly bargained agreements.

The reform bills on Republican priorities were seen as a good-faith effort by Democrats who continued into the early morning hours to negotiate a budget compromise with Sandoval. The Republican governor had demanded such reforms in return for lifting the sunsets on tax increases passed in 2009 that are scheduled to expire on June 30.

“There was no point in doing these reforms with the magnitude of the cuts that we (had been) facing,” said Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, indicating an agreement was near on how to fund education at the level Democrats had been pushing for, triggering their acquiescence on his some of Sandoval’s reforms.

Sandoval and Democratic leaders had reached an impasse on the budget late Sunday night, disagreeing on the overall spending number. But they appeared to have found a way to bridge the $313 million gap between the governor’s proposed spending and Democrats' spending by early Tuesday morning. No final deal had been reached, but Democrats were looking for a budget mechanism to fund education at their levels while keeping overall general fund spending at the level recommended by Sandoval.

Democrats also are seeking a tax increase on mining, either by closing some deduction loopholes or capping the overall deductions the companies are allowed to take.

Changes to the way the payroll tax is assessed also were being negotiated. Education reforms had been a priority of Sandoval, as well as Democratic leadership, but are also a key bargaining chip in negotiating spending and taxes.

Assembly Bill 225 and Assembly Bill 229 drew some heated debate on the Senate floor.

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Sen. Mike Schneider

Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, railed against the bills as “a joke.”

“We’re dinking around with education, because we’re experts,” he said sarcastically. “Because we went to school. Some of us even went to college.”

He predicted the reforms were going to “screw it up more. This is just another half attempt at trying to do something.”

He said poor funding for Nevada schools was the real problem.

“This is a joke. I realize this is tied to budget negotiations. But this is a joke,” he said. “We failed our system. We failed our kids, so we can save a buck.”

Schneider ultimately ended up voting for both bills. He said after the vote that he understood it was part of the budget “endgame.”

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Sen. Michael Roberson

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, also complained that the reforms didn’t go far enough. He made the assertion, not for the first time this session, that the “teachers' union” controlled the Democratic majority.

The Nevada State Education Association, which represents teachers, opposed portions of the bill, and has said that extending sunsetting taxes is insufficient to fund schools.

Three Democratic senators, Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas; Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson; and Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas; voted against Assembly Bill 225. Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, voted against Assembly Bill 229.

Democrats closed the budget with significant cuts to K-12 funding, though less than Sandoval had proposed. Instead of a 5 percent salary cut, Democrats passed a 2.5 percent cut for teachers, administrators and support staff. The bill also institute a new four-tiered evaluation system.

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