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July 28, 2014

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Beyond the debate, both gubernatorial candidates would cut education

The aftermath of Sunday evening’s first gubernatorial debate has provided the consensus that Rory Reid, despite a relentless attack from the opening gun, drew little blood from Brian Sandoval, so: Status quo and Sandoval retains a commanding lead.

The debate was not viewed by many folks anyhow, so the evening’s impact was minimal. The coverage didn’t do either candidate any favors, although it tended to ignore Reid’s apparent lack of understanding of how the state education budget works and Sandoval’s leap of faith that teacher unions simply will sit down with him and accept his broadsword to the schools budget.

And, of course, with both candidates committed to allow taxes to sunset and no hope of stimulus funds being repeated, they will both have to cut education to get to the numbers they claim because it is more than half the budget. And they essentially reaffirmed this at a school – Andre Agassi prep – that has achieved remarkable results but with twice the per pupil funding of the school districts they are proposing to leech money from next year.

There are basic canards that each man has predicated his plan on – Sandoval has no long-term plan yet and will avoid releasing one for as long as he can – that reveal how they hope to skate through the election with fuzzy math and leaps of faith. But Reid’s insistence Sunday that Sandoval is cutting education while his plan would not simply is false based on his own document and history.

Let’s look at Reid first:

He has vowed to continue the current state employee furlough plan and says it would save $480 million. He insists education was held harmless and would be under his plan, too.

But that doesn’t add up.

First, the furlough plan included education, It’s right there in Senate Bill 3 of the 26th special session: “temporarily authorizing school districts to require employees to take unpaid furlough leave”

What that means is that the districts had to choose between furloughing employees or, if prohibited by union contracts, find the savings elsewhere. Here’s the law's distribution of cuts:

K-12 (funding reduced equivalent to a 4% salary reduction) $196M

NSHE (funding reduced equivalent to a 4% salary reduction) $48M

State Employees (12 furlough days per year or a 4.6% salary reduction) $57M

Total savings $301M

As state budget boss Andrew Clinger told me: “You can’t get the $480 million (in Reid’s budget plan) without K though 12. They are two-thirds of the number.”

(In case the Reid folks try to impugn Clinger’s credibility because he works for Jim Gibbons, he is as solid as they come and Reid even invoked Clinger's numbers during the debate on the room tax money left in the coffers.)

So when Sandoval said Sunday Reid does not “know your own budget plan because it seeks to cut education,” he was right. And when he said it was a “dramatic cut,” he was also right.

I am not sure if Reid does not get this or is simply ignoring the math that show two-thirds of state personnel cuts are teachers. The way state government funds education is this: Money is sent to school districts and they decide, after bargaining with unions, how it is spent. Not sure if Reid’s plan really gets this.

Sandoval, though, had a problem of his own, although of a different kind when he parried Reid’s consistent attacks on his cutting education, supposedly by $533 million. “Nowhere in my plan does it call for the layoff of a single teacher,” Sandoval declared.

That is true, so far as it goes and if you ignore basic facts. Sandoval’s leap is that the unions will work with him so no one will be laid off when he cuts the schools budget, which he acknowledges he will do – a 4 percent pay cut across the board for state employees. That means either the unions agree or….the teachers will be fired. Sandoval just refuses to acknowledge the possibility that the teachers unions will snub his proposal. What then?

Said Reid on Sunday: “He’s asking for teachers to do something they won’t do.” Probably so.

So both candidates, in very different ways, are being disingenuous about what their plans might entail, although Reid’s transgression seems more egregious. I think Sandoval is a thoroughly flawed messenger in pointing it out, though – he has not presented his own budget plan, so we are relying on his short-term deficit plan based on a much smaller deficit than actually existed and the frontrunner is delaying any release of a plan to address the most important issue facing the most important officeholder in the state.

And again: They both would cut education.

“My budget holds education harmless,” Reid said in the second half of the debate. Not if he is claiming $480 million in furlough program savings, it doesn’t. And if it does, he is cutting the other third of state employees’ pay by huge amounts. Reid also criticized Sandoval for his lack of commitment to class-size reduction, which he claims he will not cut.

But none of these numbers make sense – and not just for Reid. This doesn’t even include the additional costs they don’t talk about for instituting merit pay programs or so-called value-added assessment – good idea, perhaps, but not free.

And, I repeat: We are still waiting for Sandoval’s plan.

Some other, more minor points, about The Great Education Debate:

----I saw it twice – once in person and once on TV. Reid was more relaxed and aggressive, staying on message. Sandoval was more intense and defensive (he had to be). For those who watched, I’d say Reid probably came across better.

----Reid’s basic points of division, besides his disingenuous use of budget cuts, was that Sandoval’s choice program favors the rich and that his plan would provide assistance rather than punishment to struggling schools. Sandoval suggests that Reid’s is warmed over empowerment rhetoric while his would really change the status quo (no social promotion or teacher tenure, vouchers).

----For more of my thoughts, go on my Twitter feed and follow my live tweets:

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