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February 1, 2015

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Democrats look to increase education funding

Five areas lawmakers hope to make improvements in this session, but the question is: How will they pay for it?


Leila Navidi

All the kindergarten students at Elizondo Elementary School eat lunch together in North Las Vegas Thursday, September 29, 2011.

Democrats in the Nevada Legislature want to increase education funding by roughly $310 million — and that’s the floor of what they want to spend.

They would sink money into a variety of programs aimed mostly at early childhood education that they say are critical for improving the state’s graduation rate and student performance.

The funding is in addition to the $135 million Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed to put into the public schools budget.

Lawmakers will spend this week discussing the various policy bills in committee.

But how will they pay for it? That’s a discussion for a later day.

“After we pass this legislation, it is incumbent upon all of us — Democrat, Republican and the governor — to come to the table and work out a plan to make our schools better today, not 10 years from now,” Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Las Vegas, said. “We are willing and open to discuss the ideas of how to pay for these proposals, but the Republicans and the governor must come to the table with us.”

Here’s a look at five ways Democrats want to increase education funding and the chances each proposal might make it through the Legislature:

    • Pre-kindergarten classes in at-risk schools: $20 million

      Beginning a child’s education earlier promotes greater success in later education and job prospects, Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero-Loop said.

      Under the Democrats’ plan, $20 million would be earmarked for funding pre-kindergarten classes, beginning in fiscal year 2015.

      The program would be implemented in a similar fashion to the original full-day kindergarten program. Schools with the largest at-risk student populations would receive funding until the $20 million was spent.

      Chances it will pass:

      Sandoval has not made pre-kindergarten an emphasis of his education policy, and additional funding is not in his budget. Conservatives also have attacked the idea that early education promotes greater success. In a session with limited money, this program may not make the cut.

    • Universal full-day kindergarten: $71 million

      Offering full-day kindergarten in only some of Nevada’s schools creates an uneven playing field headed into the first grade, Democrats believe.

      While Sandoval has proposed $20 million to increase the number of schools with full-day kindergarten to 160 from 114, it is not enough funding to expand the program to all elementary schools.

      Included in the $71 million Democrats want to spend to expand the program is about $11 million for classroom space needed to accommodate the influx of kindergartners.

      Chances it will pass:

      Few dispute that full-day kindergarten is a worthwhile program. Sandoval emphasized it in his State of the State address and proposed budget. If the money is found, the program stands a strong chance of passing.

    • Ending social promotion: $50 million

      Sandoval and Democrats agree on the policy of requiring third-graders to pass a reading assessment before being promoted to the fourth grade.

      What they don’t necessarily agree on is whether it will cost money.

      Borrowing 2-year-old estimates from school districts on what it would cost to ensure third-graders pass that test, Democrats say a successful program to end social promotion would cost about $50 million.

      “You can’t just magically end social promotion,” one Democratic lawmaker said.

      Chances it will pass:

      Again, this is all about money. Last session, Sandoval proposed a bill to end social promotion. At the time, he contended it would not cost money — the test is already paid for, and holding third-graders back a year wouldn’t be financially onerous.

      Democrats dispute that last part, arguing second-go-round third-graders would make it more difficult to meet low class-size requirements in place for third grade but not fourth grade.

      They agree on the policy, but Democrats would have to convince the governor it needs funding.

    • Class-size reduction: $95 million

      As it’s written, state law requires a 15-1 ratio of students to teachers in kindergarten through third grade. But lawmakers have never provided enough funding to actually meet that requirement and since the recession have cut funding even further.

      In practice, class sizes are often much larger than what is required in statute.

      In a bit of twisted logic, therefore, Democrats may actually propose increasing the mandatory class-size ratios to a level that is possible for the state to fund and for districts to meet. An initial draft of the bill proposed increasing the number from 15 to 20 students, but an amendment is expected later this week that would change that number.

      Democrats likely will settle on a number between 15 to 22 students per teacher in the lower grades. The end goal, they say, is to restore the funding that has been cut since 2010.

      Chances it will pass:

      On this one, there is little bipartisan agreement on the policy, meaning Democrats will have a battle to get the funding for it.

    • Resources for English-language learners: $66.5 million

      To truly fund what it costs to educate a student learning English as a second language, the state might have to spend as much as $300 million, Democrats estimated. But that figure assumes no other programs are in place — such as full-day kindergarten or reading assistance.

      This session, Democrats want to provide a stronger foundation for English-language learners and have proposed spending $66.5 million.

      Chances it will pass:

      Republicans have also placed an emphasis on increased funding for English-language learners. Sandoval has proposed $14 million in additional funding and Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson wants to spend an additional $20 million.

      Again, there’s agreement on the policy. It’s just how to pencil out the dollars.

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    1. Part 1 of 2 To be continued
      1-END social promotion to the NEXT grade, any grade, if a child is NOT at grade level, not ready to be successful at the next grade. This act alone, will put the parent(s) and caregiver(s) on notice that THEY must take on some responsibility of their child's education. Come to a school after the first three weeks it starts, and listen to the wails of teachers who have students who are NOT READY for the next grade. We are doing a real disservice by allowing such children to move on when it is clear that they have not master basic foundational skills preparing them for the next grade. MOST children attending at-risk schools enter those schools ALREADY BEHIND! It is pure torture to such students who are forever "catching up." Let's end social promotion once and for all!
      2-Start emphasizing education in the early developmental years with making available (not mandating), Pre-K (half day, these little ones are not mature enough to handle full day care without warping them), and full day Kindergarten. Now, also implement #1 starting Kindergarten, so IF that child is NOT ready to advance to first grade, they continue the basics another year in Kindergarten. Again, this puts their parent(s) or caregiver(s) on notice of the need for home support for these children to succeed.

      Considering the great reluctance of Lawmakers putting ENforcement teeth in the taxpayer funded, yearly administered PARENT/TEACHER/STUDENT INVOLVEMENT ACCORD, which there already exists a support structure of truant officers, school counselors, attendance and behavioral support staff, school administrators, teachers, and school police, whose HANDS TO ENFORCE ARE TIED, absent Lawmakers legislating ENforcement teeth, ending social promotion is a start.

      Too many individuals procreate without consideration of important child development factors. Perhaps shifting the responsibility of insuring your child must attain certain development benchmarks for successfully advancing to the next level, will be a humungous wake up call. One could only hope.

      In having larger classroom sizes, we MUST take into account the Special Ed students and ELL/ESL students that populate that mainstream classroom. The teacher's ability to provide quality and consistent instruction DROPS as you keep adding such students. Major streamlining must take place on EARLY evaluation of students through the SIP and RTI process. This streamlining will add extra burden on K through 2 grade teachers. It MUST be done for any of the changes to work!

      Blessings and Peace,

    2. Part of 2 of 2

      School districts must look at what incentives they can offer to irreplaceable teachers that they wish to retain. No one is their right mind, can continue working for an employer who does not offer adequate compensation and benefits for services rendered.

      Currently, teachers are leaving Nevada in droves. THAT should tell you something. School districts are trying to emulate the corporate world by paying the top, over-the-top salaries and benefits, while telling workers in the trenches, "Good luck, make what you have from us work, you are replaceable." This is a people business, with human beings,with all their frailties and strengths, constantly changes, who are evolving every moment of the day.

      Only an experienced educator can zero in, evaluate, and tailor educational services for a young person, and meet them where they are at in the moment. A test does not, nor does a computer. We do not educate "herds," we educate each and every "individual" and where they are at this moment. School employees who have great attendance, who are team players, who routinely go that extra mile, should be paid accordingly. Young people need predictable and stable structure to grow into the best they can be. When we compare schools and corporations, we are comparing apples and oranges.

      Blessings and Peace,

    3. Retention does NOT work! Please read:

      The cause(s) for the failure to learn must be removed and mitigated. We can retain kids at each grade level, but until such time those causes are removed, we will be having teenagers in elementary schools. Causes usually begin in the home. Some reasons are beyond a teacher's capacity, such as cognitive processing deficiencies, which are hereditary. The child can still learn, but not at the same rate as his peers, and not at the same level of competence. For additional support, help must be provided at home and parents will have to be trained on how they can help their children.

      We are setting up children for failure when we demand ALL children pass the same standardized tests. There are multiple intelligences and children simply do not learn the same way. We differentiate instruction yet we use the same tools and standards to assess their competence.

      Instead of spending millions to retain children, we must spend this money to fund laser-like interventions for ALL those children who need it. There are very specific strategies that can be done to mitigate reading deficiencies - not special Ed, but intervention plans for those who do not meet grade level standards. These children must be taught the same skills as their peers in the same grade level, otherwise they will be forever playing catch-up, which will ultimately lead to frustration and dropping out.

      These interventions are very difficult to implement in the current instructional time allowed. There simply isn't enough time during the school day. In addition, teachers need very specific skills to conduct assessments and deliver instruction, which in most cases, must be individualized and skill-deficiency specific.

      Why are these people making education policies?

    4. There is so much ignorance about schools.

      Yet, these ignorant people keep repeating their asinine comments which do not have an iota of logic in them.

      They take the most basic argument that because children do not learn, it must be the fault of the teachers. Anyone who has a modicum of intelligence should be able, at the very least, surmise that learning does NOT happen only in classrooms, nor does it begin, stay, or end in the classroom.

      Education policies, rules, regulations, and other structures and processes are NOT formulated by teachers. And, children do come in various levels of readiness ( or lack of it), in varying levels of cognitive abilities and functioning, behaviors and attitudes, and familial circumstances.

      Any war can be fought by the best trained and well-armed soldiers, but it is the senior officers who plot attacks and defenses that will win battles.

      Wake up people. Teachers are the least of your problems. Who decides how to spend your money? Surely, you know it's not teachers!

      Maybe you should turn to the ones running the show?