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March 29, 2017

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EDITORIAL:

State of the State: 5 things we’d like to hear tonight

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Lance Iversen / AP

Gov. Brian Sandoval acknowledges a guest in the gallery during his State of the State address in a joint meeting of the Nevada Assembly inside the Legislature building Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, on the capitol grounds in Carson City.

Unlike the last regular session of the Nevada Legislature, the one that starts next month may not be remembered for one major issue.

Two years after he pushed through a $1.5 billion tax increase to benefit K-12 schools in what became informally known as the Education Session, Gov. Brian Sandoval isn’t expected to lay out a similarly sweeping initiative tonight when he sets the stage for the 2017 session by delivering his State of the State address.

But that doesn’t mean Sandoval will mark time. There’s broad speculation that he’ll lay out a plan to curb opioid abuse and will press to resurrect the state’s Education Savings Account law, which was enacted in 2015 to provide state funding for parents to move their children to private schools or homeschool them. The Nevada Supreme Court issued a permanent injunction against implementing the law, saying the funding method for it didn’t pass legal muster. But Republican lawmakers believe a new source of funding can be created.

Going into the address, here are five things we’d like to hear tonight.

Support for a weighted funding formula for schools.

Nevada’s current funding formula was created in a bygone era when the state’s population was a fraction of its current size and there were vastly fewer English language learners, special-needs students and children from low-income students attending public schools, especially in Southern Nevada. It’s decades past time to adjust the funding formula to send a larger percentage of state funding to schools with above-average numbers of those students versus schools with higher-income students for whom English is their primary language.

A rally cry against Yucca Mountain.

With Harry Reid no longer in the Senate, it’s more critical than ever for Nevada state and congressional leaders to unify in opposition to the resurrection of the nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain. Encouraging news on this front came out recently when out-going Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said any effort to bring the project back to life was doomed because elected officials in Nevada don’t support it. By making that point loud and clear tonight, Sandoval could send a strong message to the incoming presidential administration that Nevadans have no interest in opening the door to discussions on the matter.

A plan to implement universal background checks for firearm sales.

It’s critical for state leaders to follow the will of voters and find a workaround that would allow the November ballot measure on gun safety to go into effect. The measure requires gun sales and transfers between private individuals to be subject to the same background checks as transactions involving a licensed dealer. It’s been in limbo since December, when Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt announced that the FBI had refused to conduct the checks, as specified in the language of the measure. But options have arisen since then to fix the issue.

A call to protect public lands.

It’s unclear where President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will fall on whether to allow federal land to be transferred to states or private interests, but there was a bad sign this month when Trump’s pick for Interior secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke, voted in favor of a rule change that makes the transfers easier. Zinke has expressed support for protecting public land and has criticized sovereign citizens who believe the feds have no legal right to own the land, but Sandoval and other state leaders should watch him closely and resist efforts to turn over federal acreage.

A shocking about-face on ESA.

OK, this one’s not going to happen. But Sandoval is making a mistake in championing the ESA law, which will pull money out of public education and which, in its current form, wouldn’t provide enough funding for lower-income families to fully afford tuition at private schools. What’s more, it doesn’t solve a key issue that hinders struggling families in taking advantage of private schools — transportation. The law threatens to draw higher-income students away from the district, which would only intensify income disparities in the valley. Less-fortunate students could easily become caught in a downward spiral, with public schools drawing less funding while also dealing with a dropoff in achievement, as higher-income students tend to perform better than their peers.

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