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Teachers rally for increased state education funding

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Steve Marcus

Teachers applaud a speaker during a rally for Education Awareness Day at Fay Herron Elementary School in North Las Vegas Monday Feb. 25, 2013. Teachers and members of the Clark County Education Association urged lawmakers in Carson City to consider issues with overcrowded classrooms and resources for English language learners. Over 95percent of the student population at the school is Hispanic, the principal said.

Updated Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 | 1:58 p.m.

Teachers Rally for Education Awareness Day

Teachers applaud a speaker during a rally for Education Awareness Day at Fay Herron Elementary School in North Las Vegas Monday Feb. 25, 2013. Teachers and members of the Clark County Education Association urged lawmakers in Carson City to consider issues with overcrowded classrooms and resources for English language learners. Over 95percent  of the student population at the school is Hispanic, the principal said. Launch slideshow »

Fay Herron Elementary

Nevada must invest more heavily in its underfunded and underperforming schools to graduate more students and boost the local economy.

That's the message thousands of teachers across the Clark County School District are hoping to send to lawmakers in Carson City on Monday, which has been designated by the Legislature as "Education Awareness Day."

Since the recession, the Clark County School District has seen more than $500 million in cuts to educational programs, staff and services, according to district officials. These cuts have resulted in teacher reductions and overcrowded classrooms, and the elimination of classroom programs and resources.

About 40 teachers gathered Monday morning at Fay Herron Elementary School to highlight the effects of the budget cuts to schools and to call for more education funding. The event — staged about a half hour before school started — was organized by the local teachers union and featured some of the more than 10,000 Clark County school teachers wearing "More 4 Schools" buttons.

Herron, which serves a high population of Hispanic students from low-income households, has been hit hard by the recession, teachers said.

The North Las Vegas school was forced to install eight portable classrooms to alleviate crowding, delay replacing outdated teaching materials and even ration its paper towel and toilet paper supplies, they said.

"We need more funding for education," said Cassandra Bell, an instructional aide. "We need to make sure we get the funding from the Legislature. We can't accept chump change any more."

In his biennial budget, Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed increasing state funding for K-12 education by $135 million over the next two years. Several of his budget proposals and education reforms will be discussed this week in Carson City.

Sandoval's plan would increase per-pupil funding by $195 in the first year and by $131 in the second year. Ultimately, those increases would lift state funding to $5,697 per student by 2015.

Currently, Nevada's federal, state and local per-pupil spending, about $8,510 per year, is ninth lowest in the nation.

The governor's budget also calls for $20 million to expand full-day kindergarten programs to about half of Nevada's elementary schools. It also suggests allocating state money for the first time – about $14 million – to support 76,500 students across Nevada who don't speak English as their first language.

Some say those efforts, while commendable, aren't enough to make up for the budget cuts and get Las Vegas students "ready by exit,” the School District’s goal that graduation should prepare students to succeed without any need for remediation.

Experts say it could cost up to $60 million – about three times as proposed – to expand full-day kindergarten to all elementary schools in Nevada. Moreover, a state-commissioned study found that Nevada should be spending at least $140 million per year – about 20 times as proposed – to support its ELL students.

At a press conference Monday afternoon in Carson City, Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis called for $310 million more in state spending for public education over the next biennium. Democrats have not proposed a way to raise that money, however.

Teachers union members at Herron Elementary argued Nevada needed additional revenue sources to adequately fund education. The Nevada State Education Association is pushing for a 2 percent margins tax on all businesses earning $1 million or more in revenue, after some deductions.

Legislators have less than a month to act on the petition initiative. If it's not passed, the tax initiative would head to voters in 2014.

"Every day our students and our teachers are forced to live with the consequences of a poorly funded and unsupported education system," said Vikki Courtney, Clark County Education Association vice president, addressing members of the media at Herron Elementary. "This simply cannot go on."

Further complicating education funding in Nevada is the looming sequester, a set of across-the-board federal spending cuts that would automatically take place if Congress fails to pass a balanced budget by Friday.

Over the weekend, the White House released the potential state-by-state impact of the "sequestration," which promises cuts to federal programs that serve Nevada children.

According to the White House, if sequestration were to happen, Nevada would lose about $9 million in federal funding for primary and secondary education, putting about 120 teacher and staff positions at risk. About 14,000 fewer students and about 10 fewer schools would receive federal funding in Nevada.

Furthermore, Nevada would lose about $3.8 million in federal funding for about 50 teachers and staff who work with special-needs children.

The Silver State's Head Start preschool programs would be eliminated for about 300 children. In addition, about 1,150 fewer children would receive vaccines for diseases.

"This is just one more layer of cuts we could be facing," Courtney said. "People have to come together and say schools and education are important. We can't keep doing more with less."

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