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The Clark County Education Association, Nevada’s largest teacher union, did not support Joe Lombardo last year in his gubernatorial race against Democratic incumbent Governor Steve Sisolak. But the union responded positively on Tuesday to a proposal by a new Republican governor to increase per-student funding for Nevada public school students.
Lombardo’s proposal, which calls for a greater focus on low-income English learners and gifted children, will boost education by $2 billion over a two-year period, increasing funding per student by $2,116 to $12,406 in FY 2024 which starts July 1st. and up to $12,881 by fiscal year 2025.
“This kind of investment is unprecedented and long overdue,” the union, which is bidding for more than 18,000 teachers in the Clark County school district, said in a statement after Lombardo’s first speech to the state. “The current success of the student-centered funding plan is the result of years of legislative work that began in 2019 and ended in 2021. Long-term solutions require long-term efforts.”
But Lombardo’s plan has not fully addressed the state’s teacher shortage crisis, Nevada Education Association (NSEA) officials said after Monday’s speech.
The union claims the ongoing statewide teacher shortage is the result of a combination of low pay and lack of respect for the profession that is destroying Nevada’s schools. Although the starting salary for a teacher in the Clark County School District was increased by 16% to $50,115 at the end of May.
“We haven’t heard any bold proposals to address the ongoing crisis in our schools,” NSEA President and Washoe County music teacher Don Etcheverry said in a statement. “Instead, Gov. Lombardo has dusted off a failed voucher scheme that will do nothing to improve the quality of education in Nevada. Transferring more government taxes to private schools is the wrong answer.”
The “scheme” is Lombardo’s plan to provide $50 million in Opportunity scholarships and related tax credits that would allow parents to use public money for private education, a key promise made by the former Clark County Sheriff during the campaign.
Lombardo does not use the term “vouchers”. He uses the term “school choice” and promises to pass legislation to create an Office of School Choice within the Nevada Department of Education to provide families with information about private, charter and other options outside of the traditional public school.
This will include access to private schools using scholarships through tax credits. The NSEA, for example, calls it a diversion that would “undermine support for public education and encourage re-segregation.”
The NSEA calls its own platform “Time for 20,” which requires a 20% increase for teachers, at least $20 an hour for support professionals, and a maximum class size of 20 students statewide, and the association said these “bars” were are evident in Sisolak’s budget Highlights.
“He focused on what we think at NSEA is the top priority that public education is facing right now, which is you have a group of educators who no longer see the profession as livable,” he said in an interview. NSEA representative Alexander Marks. “People don’t want to be in teaching or education anymore, and I think the budget (Sisolak) understood that because it was focused not only on getting teachers into the profession, but also on keeping them.”
Marks also said that Sisolak’s budget, which the administration has prepared in recent days, despite Lombardo’s team presenting a final budget ahead of the upcoming legislative session, is in line with the recommendations of the bipartisan School Finance Commission, which recognized that expansion of property and sales taxes were necessary to optimal investment in education.
The NSEA also did not support Lombardo – it supported Sisolak, while the CCEA refused to support any gubernatorial candidate. Both unions, though, said they were looking forward to starting work with the new administration, in which Lombardo would have to reach across the aisle to get some legislation through the Democratic Nevada Senate and the overwhelming Democratic Assembly.
CCSD Superintendent Jesús Jara reiterated the CCEA, applauding Lombardo’s per-student funding plan, which, with its weighting, closes the “wealth gap”.
Lombardo said he expects to see results from the injection of funds into schools.
“I will not accept lack of funding as an excuse for poor performance,” he said. “I will work with the State Superintendent to ensure that our accountability and transparency systems are credible and enforced. And if we don’t start seeing results, I’ll be standing here in two years calling for systematic change in management and leadership in K-12 education.”
Jara seemed to accept the challenge.
“We are confident that families will continue to choose CCSD to educate their children,” Hara said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Legislature to make sure we have the proper accountability systems in place to deliver the best results for Nevada students.”