Sharon Miller of Spanish Springs and her three school-age daughters wrote their concerns in crayon and taped them to plastic baseball bats they hoisted high among a crowd of about 300 protesters, many of them Washoe County School District teachers on spring break.
Miller said she and other parent volunteers are becoming more vital as teachers struggle to meet testing deadlines and manage larger class sizes on smaller budgets. “I spend a lot of my time repairing books that are falling apart and teaching kids handwriting,” she said.
The demonstration outside the legislative building coincided with scheduled hearings on major policy bills sought by the Republican governor dealing with K-12 education and counter proposals pushed by Democrats.
Earlier in the day, the Senate Finance Committee heard SB 2, a perpetual measure pushed by Sen. Michael Schneider, D-Las Vegas, that calls for Nevada to fund education at the national, per-pupil average.
The bill calculates that Nevada’s per-pupil spending, including state and local money, is $1,965 below the national average. SB2 would require taking $1.6 billion from the state general fund and placing it in the distributive school account.
Schneider has sponsored a similar bill for years without success.
“When I entered this building 10 sessions ago, those kids who were 1 year old at that time, I failed them,” Schneider told the committee. “Half of them didn’t graduate. We failed them.”
Another bill, SB 372 sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, seeks to wrestle voter-approved money from Sandoval’s budget to augment education.
Voters in Washoe and Clark counties approved a 2008 advisory question to raise room taxes by 3 percent to fund education, and the increase was approved by lawmakers in 2009. Under the measure, the increased revenue was to be used to help plug a state general fund shortfall before reverting to education in 2011.
Sandoval’s budget proposal continues putting the money, estimated at $221 million, in the general fund until 2014.
Under Horsford’s bill, the money would have to be used for academic endeavors, such as early-learning, after-school and summer programs, and to give students who drop out of high school another avenue to achieve a high school equivalency diploma.
Later Monday, the Assembly Education Committee was to consider three bills proposed by the governor. AB 554 establishes a letter grading system for schools; AB 557 creates a pay-for-performance incentive program for teachers; and AB 548 calls for the governor to appoint members of the state Board of Education.
Teachers who attended the rally said they took time from their spring break to share their plight with legislators, but added it’s difficult to advocate for themselves between grading papers and working weekends.
Legislators and speakers from union groups told school personnel Monday to drop their soft classroom voices and keep making a clamor about cuts that would lower their pay and have them contribute more to their retirement plans.
“You’re not screaming loud enough,” said Rusty McAllister, president of the Professional Firefighters of Nevada association. “You’re not talking loud enough.”