Las Vegas Sun

June 18, 2019

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New education funding bill won’t stop a CCSD teacher strike. Could other bills?

Teacher's Union Rally in Downtown Las Vegas

Miranda Alam/Special to the Sun

Attendees hold up signs during a rally held in support of more education funding by the Clark County Education Association at the Lloyd D. George U.S. Court House in Las Vegas on Saturday, April 27, 2019.

The Clark County Education Association has not yet taken a stance on Senate Bill 543, a proposal to overhaul the state’s 52-year-old education funding formula. But one thing is clear: The bill is not enough to prevent the largest teachers union in the Clark County School District from moving forward with a strike in August when a new school year begins.

Introduced on Monday, three weeks before the end of the legislative session, SB543 would replace the state’s 52-year-old funding formula, known as the Nevada Plan, with the new Pupil-Centered Funding Plan.

The new formula would establish a base level of financial support for every student in the state, and additional weighted funds would be assigned to the following student populations: English-language learners, students with disabilities, gifted and talented students and at-risk students. The formula would also provide more funding for small schools and small school districts, which have higher costs relative to their number of students, as well as for schools and districts with higher costs of living.

District officials emphasized their support for SB543, which they see as a much-needed overhaul of the oldest school funding formula in the nation, at the Clark County School Board meeting Thursday.

“All in all, we’re pleased with this bill,” said Kirsten Searer, chief communications and community engagement officer for CCSD. “We think that it’s actually very historic legislation for Nevada students.”

Although the new formula, if passed, does not increase state education money, Searer said it makes education funding simpler and more transparent. It also eliminates the “circular” funding of the previous formula, whereby any additional funds from grants or other sources were offset by an equivalent reduction in state education funds, said Jeremy Aguero, a principal analyst with Applied Analysis who worked on the bill.

Regardless of whether SB543 passes the Legislature, CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara acknowledged the continued, looming possibility of a teacher strike, pending the outcome of the legislative session scheduled to end June 3. Teachers want a 3 percent raise and a 2 percent roll-up salary increase, as promised by Gov. Steve Sisolak, and SB543 does not address funding for compensating educators.

Public sector employees are forbidden from striking under Nevada law, and Jara said he would not condone a strike for that reason alone.

“We continue to advocate and are hopeful that we’ll end up where we need to be to make sure we compensate our employees,” he said, adding that state officials are “doing as much as they can” to increase public education funding.

Meanwhile, two bills introduced last week could raise Clark County educators’ salaries by next school year, potentially averting a strike: Senate Bill 545, which would move marijuana sales tax funds out of the state’s rainy day fund and toward education, and Assembly Bill 309, which would authorize counties to raise the sales tax by 0.25 percent for education funding. CCSD lobbyist Brad Keating said a 0.25 percent sales tax in Clark County could yield an estimated $100-120 million per year.

That money could be used for initiatives to retain teaching staff, including raises. In addition, AB309 would require school districts looking to raise salaries for employees to put that money into a separate account at the beginning of the fiscal year, which could only be used for that intended purpose.

The CCEA supports both SB545 and AB309. But CCEA President John Vellardita noted that if AB309 were to pass, the Clark County Commission would still need to approve a sales tax increase for any new funds to be raised.

Union officials did not comment specifically on the education funding formula bill at the School Board meeting, but one teacher and CCEA member left the board with a final plea as the legislative session nears its end: Find money for teacher raises.

“We’re seen as being the bad guys because we want more. We want to be able to live in doing this profession,” said Jana Pleggenkuhle, CCSD project facilitator.