Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2019

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Legislature OKs education budget — minus ESA funding

Sandy Valley School Renovations Needed

L.E. Baskow

Portable classrooms at the Sandy Valley school sit mostly idle following flood damage three years ago. The campus, pictured Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, now features twice as many portable classrooms as permanent ones.

CARSON CITY — A state program to help parents put kids in private school is unfunded in an education budget bill that has now passed both the Senate and Assembly.

Senate Bill 544 passed the Assembly on Friday with 27-15 party-line vote, a day after Democrats in the Senate approved the measure 12-0 without Republicans participating. The votes mean Gov. Brian Sandoval is expected to decide whether to veto a budget without the $60 million he asked for to fund education savings accounts.

Comments became heated before the vote, with Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, interjecting to remind a Democrat and a Republican lawmaker about decorum rules.

“When you check your obligations to this state and you think about what are the foundations that you are actually standing upon right now, are they rooted in the greater good or are they rooted in your selfish need and your political need and your political drive,” said Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, prompting Frierson to speak up.

Assemblyman Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, said before the Assembly vote Friday that despite efforts at compromise on ESAs, such as an extra bump for those with disabilities and sending 70 percent of the scholarship money to current applicants who needed it most, none was reached.

“I recognize that’s politics,” he said. “That’s part of this game. That’s part of understanding how we get to a good point where we’re all unhappy and we can vote for something that probably is best for Nevada. That said, we understood that we needed an all-of-the-above approach still.”

Anderson said parents should be able to decide who is the best educator for their children.

“That’s something that from the get-go, from the beginning of this session and even before, we struggled to make sure it was a priority,” he said. “It was a top priority for our caucus and we’d hoped was a top priority for this building. I believe in good faith this house negotiated to a point where we were comfortable that we were close, that we had the ability to get this done, and so I can bring no fault to this house.”

Assemblyman Chris Edwards, R-Las Vegas, said the state has the money to fund ESAs.

“I understand that this chamber has negotiated very faithfully in order to make this a possibility,” he said. “We are hugely disappointed that it may not be.”

Edwards also brought up fellow Republicans who did not return after last session’s education reforms, and was reminded against mentioning future election results.

“That is a price that they were willing to pay,” he said before Frierson told him lawmakers were on the floor to make policy, not reference election consequences.

Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, D-North Las Vegas, said before the vote that the budget bill covers many choices and needs for students, and sends money toward bullying awareness programs. By voting no, he said, “you are actively voting to harm our schools and to harm our children. Now is the time to vote in support for our children.”

Thompson said he is a native Nevadan educated in the Clark County School District.

“When you look at me, you see the public education system, and for that I am very proud,” he said.

Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, D-North Las Vegas, said Republicans were adhering “to a rigid orthodoxy that gives tax breaks to rich families.”

Diaz said she is an educator and a parent and that the public school system in Nevada is starving. She said the state has made cuts to education over the past 10 years that have had a negative impact.

“This budget helps to ensure we have quality teachers in every classroom and provides $2.5 million worth of dollars in competitive incentives to keep them here in Nevada,” Diaz told the Assembly.

Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, R-Reno, told the Assembly that lawmakers needed to continue to talk about the issue in the little time they had left so that they could go back to their constituents and say they’d met the needs of all Nevada students.

“(Sandoval) mapped out a plan to be able to add additional funding to public schools and make a space for those students, yes the few, but the few who that little difference may make the difference of a lifetime for them in the outcomes,” she said. “I still have hope that we can get there.”

A spokesman for Sandoval said the governor will review the final budget bills when they arrive on his desk for final action.

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