Teachers Association Files School Spending Measure

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The state's largest teachers' association filed an initiative petition Tuesday aimed at amending the Nevada Constitution to make legislators increase public school funding to the national per-student average.

Terry Hickman, president of the Nevada State Education Association, said teachers are confident that the proposal, filed with the secretary of state, will get the necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot and will win voter approval next fall.

"The time to reach adequate levels of funding for K-12 education is overdue," added Ken Lange, the association's executive director. "If we don't address this issue now, we may never be able to."

While the teachers are hopeful, the effort could boost current spending by more than $500 million per year - and some state lawmakers said they don't know where the state would find the money.

The petition will go on the ballot if the teachers can get at least 51,251 valid signatures by mid-June.

Hickman says the proposed constitutional amendment would bolster an Education First proposal sponsored by Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev. Gibbons' plan calls for Nevada lawmakers to fund education before other state programs.

The funding push is part of a backlash resulting from the 2003 legislative session, when legislators didn't meet a statutory deadline for approving an education budget. The delay resulted in hiring freezes in school districts around the state.

State Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, has said changing the law to guarantee funding would be better than amending the state constitution.

She also questioned where the cash-strapped state would find the money to increase education spending, and said she doubted the public would support another tax increase.

Legislators in 2003 passed measures to generate a record $833 million in new or higher taxes.

Hickman said recent polls commissioned by the NSEA show that between 70 percent and 80 percent of those questioned would support an initiative to increase school funding to the national average.

The U.S. Census ranked Nevada 46th in per-student spending for the 2000-01 school year, the most recent year for which data were available. That equates to about $5,778 per pupil. The national average was $7,284 per student.