Las Vegas Sun

April 17, 2014

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$2.5 billion school funding bill OK’d, sent to governor

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MONA SHIELD PAYNE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Thirty-five fourth-grade students in Ms. Fennoy’s class utilize tables instead of desks to tolerate the overcrowding and tight quarters of their portable classroom, which exceeds the average of 30 students, at William V. Wright Elementary School, Friday, March 22, 2013.

The Assembly approved a bill Monday directing $2.5 billion to public schools to reduce class sizes and handle inflation and higher enrollments in the next two years.

The vote was 38-4, with Republican Assembly members James Wheeler, of Minden; John Ellison, of Elko; and Michele Fiore and John Hambrick, both of Las Vegas, voting against it.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, said this was the best education funding bill she has seen since her time in the Legislature.

Carlton, chairwoman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, said it increases the state support from $5,374 per student this year to $5,590 next school year and $5,679 in 2015.

Enrollments are expected to increase to more than 432,000 next school year and to 439,000 the following year.

Local revenues are added to the state's basic support.

Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said this increases support of the school system by $500 million over the last biennium. It shows a commitment to education, he said.

Democrats wanted to pour in an extra $300 million, but they could not get the support for an increase in taxes.

The bill, which goes to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his signature, cleared the way for the Legislature to enact other spending measures. This bill had to be passed first before other appropriation acts could be improved.

Wheeler said his was a “protest vote” and he complained about “bloated salaries” for administrators and low pay for teachers.

He said the state must find ways to save money and help the children.

The bill will enable the hiring of 2,194 teachers next school year to reduce class sizes in the primary grades.

The bill provides enough funding to lower the teacher-student ratio to 1-16 in at-risk kindergarten classes and in grades 1 and 2 in the next two fiscal years. And there are sufficient funds for a 1-19 teacher ratio in grade 3.

Another bill to be passed before the session ends is an appropriation of $50 million for the next two years to address the needs of English-language learners.

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