Strong Support For School Funding Poll Shows

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Nevada voters want more public school funding and say the state education budget should be the first priority for Nevada lawmakers, a newspaper survey found.

Most respondents to a statewide telephone poll said they support two initiatives aimed at amending the state constitution to improve funding for schools, according to results of a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll reported Tuesday.

"The public will ultimately decide how important education is," said John Jasonek, executive director of the Clark County Education Association, which is backing one initiative drive begun this month.

That measure, proposed by the Nevada State Education Association, would require the state to fund schools above the national average by 2012. Officials say passage could provide an additional $500 million per year in school funding statewide.

Sixty-four percent of the 625 registered voters contacted March 15-17 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., said they would approve the teacher union proposal if the vote were held today. The survey had a sampling error margin of 4 percentage points.

Sixty-eight percent of poll respondents were solidly behind another initiative, dubbed Education First and proposed in January by Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.

It would require state lawmakers to pass a K-12 education budget before approving funding for other state programs.

"That tells me education is a high priority for Nevada," Gibbons told the Review-Journal.

Supporters have until June 15 to collect more than 50,000 signatures to qualify the measures for the November ballot.

Fears of new taxes or reductions in other state programs have some who back one measure balking at the other.

Gibbons said he opposes the union effort because it doesn't define "national average."

"I don't know how much that's going to cost the people," Gibbons said. "It's like buying a house today and waiting eight years to see what the expenses are going to be."

Terry Hickman, Nevada State Education Association president, said the union proposal would augment the Gibbons effort.

"We feel we're just closing the loop," Hickman said. "The Gibbons initiative shows the priority, which is education first. But the question remains, what do you close the budget at?"

The teachers union executive said the percentage of the state budget devoted to education has dropped from 41.5 percent in 1979 to 34.7 percent today.

"Don't our kids deserve to be funded to the national average?" he asked.

Nevada Taxpayers Association President Carole Vilardo said her watchdog group's 46-member board has not taken a position on the two measures.

Vilardo noted that the Gibbons initiative could prevent the Legislature from acting in an emergency, and said she's worried the union measure could prove too costly and too vague.

The National Center for Education Statistics, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, reports that Nevada spent $5,807 per student in 2000-01, more than $1,500 below the national average of $7,376.