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September 16, 2014

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Legislative action may leave Nevada school districts in a budget bind

A technical amendment adopted by the legislative money committee could cause major problems for school boards now adopting their budgets for the coming fiscal year.

The Senate-Assembly budget committee, in a preliminary vote Friday, decided to remove $37 million a year from the basic support for the public schools. It would mean a reduction of $87 per pupil this coming year.

Joyce Haldeman of the Clark County School District said the district would take a hit of $27 million a year. The School Board adopted its preliminary budget last Wednesday.

“This has the potential of having a devastating impact,” Haldeman said. But she added the Senate Finance Committee and Assembly Ways and Means Committee could restore the money.

One education official, who asked not to be named, said school boards “are behind the eight-ball” due to the action of the committee.

The problem was discovered by the fiscal staff of the Legislature that the school districts had included funding in their base budgets by adding in the $37 million from outside programs to the base of the student support.

That was subtracted from the base, leaving the hole.

The committees initially approved Gov. Brian Sandoval’s recommendation that the per-student base support be $5,590 for the next fiscal year and $5,676 in fiscal 2015. It is now $5,374.

The budget for the coming two fiscal years for regular basic support of the schools would be $4.8 billon.

The committees endorsed Sandoval’s recommendation for $80 million in the coming two years to continue full day kindergarten programs in at-risk schools. Jeff Mohlenkamp, director of the state Department of Administration, said the governor intends to add $39.5 million to reduce the sizes of these classes from an average of 26 students to 21.

Sandoval’s recommendation to allocate $29 million for the English Language Learner program won approval. Mohlenkamp said the governor is meeting with legislative leaders to pump an additional $21 million into the program.

An estimated 71,250 students in Nevada schools are deficient in understanding the English language. Of those, 55,845 are in Clark County.

The joint committees did not decide whether all the money should be directed to grades K-4 or be distributed for students in all classes.

Rorie Fitzpatrick, interim state superintendent of public instruction, said the committees made a strong commitment to all-day kindergarten and to English-language learners.

She said the committees also expressed confidence in the Jobs for America graduation program by approving a continued annual appropriation of $750,000 that is aimed at stopping high school students from dropping out.

This was a pilot program in the last two years in seven high schools including Bonanza, Cimarron-Memorial, Desert Pines and Valley in Clark County. Fitzpatrick said the program is to increase graduation rates and “to get kids who are otherwise on track for a pretty miserable future in the right direction.”

“It provides a pipeline for job growth and development. It’s a small amount of money but it’s a big win for a seed (pilot) program to continue,” she said.

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