Nevada Teachers Announce Education Initiative

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A group representing Nevada teachers said Wednesday it's moving ahead with an initiative petition aimed at funding Nevada's K-12 public schools at the national average.

Terry Hickman, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said NSEA directors voted to push the initiative, which will require more than 57,000 signatures by June 15 to qualify for the November ballot.

Hickman described the teachers' initiative as "an important and integral adjunct" to the Education First initiative being promoted by Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons as a way to protect Nevada education funding from politics.

Gibbons' plan has been criticized by Democrats as a move to bolster his expected bid for governor in 2006. The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, a statewide coalition of 43 organizations, also criticized the initiative and endorsed the idea of funding Nevada schools at the national average.

Hickman said the teachers "welcome the congressman's recognition of the importance of education and invite him to support this initiative."

The announcement on the teachers' petition follows a recent report by Education Week, a specialty newspaper focusing on education, that said Nevada's funding for public schools grew the least of any state between 1999 and 2001.

"One of the lowest-spending states in the nation, Nevada ranks 48th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in education spending per pupil," says the 2004 Quality Counts survey by Education Week.

The time period examined didn't cover the state's record tax increase of 2003, much of which is earmarked for education spending, and the state Department of Education has said Nevada's financial grade will rebound in Quality Counts when the 2003 changes to state funding for schools are factored in.

Legislators approved $1.6 billion for the state education budget last summer, a 33.5 percent increase from the 2001-03 biennial budget.

The budget provided for $4,295 in basic per-pupil support in the first year of the current two-year budget cycle, and $4,424 in the second year. The old level was $3,987.

Gibbons' initiative would amend the Nevada Constitution to require legislators to first pass an education budget for K-12 schools before moving on to budgets for other government programs.

Both the Gibbons plan and the NSEA proposal would require voter approval this year and again in 2006 to take effect.