News - June 21, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

Despite calling the 2017 Legislature, "the session of accomplishment," the head of Nevada's teachers union said Wednesday the state still needs about $1 billion more in public-education funding to meet the needs of a growing state.

"If we really went through it and took a look at it, it would be over $1 billion still," Ruben Murillo, president, Nevada State Education Association, said on Nevada Newsmakers.

The 2017 Legislature ended earlier this month, approving a k-12 funding bill of $2.3 billion.

"I would say an additional $1 billion (is needed) to make sure our schools are accountable, that we have enough resources and programs to meet the needs of the students and that we have enough educators -- not only teachers but support professionals, bus drivers to get students around and para-educators to make sure our teachers and children have the support they need," Murillo said.

The extra $1 billion is needed to meet the demands of growth, Murillo said, as the state continues to recover from the Great Recession of 2008.

Leaders in the Las Vegas gaming and building industries have said Las Vegas has $15 billion worth of projects going in the next few years.

In the Reno area, tech and transportation giants such as Tesla, Google, Switch and others have laid down roots, requiring many more skilled workers and already straining roadways.

"We are a growing economy again," Murillo said. "We are not like we were during the recession. If you look around Las Vegas and Reno, you see a lot of apartment complexes going up and all of those apartments are going to bring children and the school districts are going to be over-burdened in terms of providing a quality education to all these newcomers, coming in from construction workers, from builders, from casino workers.

"Where are we going to house all those new students in our public schools?" Murillo said. "We need to invest in a workforce-ready society that address our boom economy now. You have to provide infrastructure, not only roads, bridges and all of that but you have to fund the infrastructure of public education that will meet the demand of our communities, so we don't have to go to a voucher program."

Murillo was referring to the failed Education Savings Account program, push by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, that failed at the Legislature.

Nevada's economic growth will put a lot of strain on schools, Murillo said.

"Up north, (we have) Tesla, Switch, Amazon, Apple and Google," Murillo said. "Down here (in Las Vegas), we have the massive redevelopment that is going on. It is going to put heavy pressure on our education infrastructure to provide the education that people expect and want," Murillo said. "But people have to recognize that whatever is fueling our economy, it is going to have to be addressed through the legislative session and through our school districts to make sure our children have safe places to learn, places have enough materials to provide the instruction and the instructors to provide that instruction."

Although Gov. Brian Sandoval added $100 million to public-education spending after the state's Economic Forum revenue projections, Murillio said that still doesn't make up for the money Nevada public education still needs.

"We're still trying to catch up to where we were at pre-recession, "Murillo said. "About $800 million was cut out at the beginning of the recession. The governor and Legislature in '15 put back in the $800 million so we are back to even. I applaud the governor for recognizing we have to invest in our public education but $100 million is just a drop in the bucket to get us where we should be."

Nevada ranks 47th in the nation in per-pupil spending, according to the Education Week Research Center's "Quality Counts" survey of 2016.

That per-pupil spending ranking needs to come up, Murillo said. He was also critical of "unfunded mandates" from the Legislature, a complaint that was also raised during the legislative session by an official from the Washoe County School District.

"We expect school districts to take unfunded mandates and run and implement them," Murillo said. "And until we address those issues, school districts are going to have to do what they have to do to provide the services that are immediate. It may mean running at a deficit; it may mean moving monies around."