Lawmakers Hold Closed-Door Meetings on Education

Hoping to end the session on time for the first time since 1999, legislative leaders are holding closed-door meetings this week trying to resolve differences over K-12 and higher education budgets.

Democrats, who control the Assembly, want more money put into
public education this session, particularly for an expansion of all-day kindergarten even if the program can't be fully funded over the next two years.

Democrats also want to keep much of the $60 million proposed by
Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons for empowerment schools in a current
program that provides additional compensation to teachers in hard-to-fill teaching subjects and to those who teach in at-risk schools. Empowerment schools still would be created by the Legislature through a policy measure, but with a lower funding level.

Leaders from both houses and both parties were working with legislative fiscal analysts to find additional money that could be spent on the public schools over the next two years.

Legislative leaders met for several hours on Wednesday, emerging
from time to time to handle other duties. Reaching agreement on the
public schools budget early is critical to adjourning the session on its June 4 deadline.

Because of a new constitutional requirement, other spending bills for the 2007-09 budget can't be given final approval by lawmakers until the education budget is completed.

A key element of the education funding issue is a proposal for prison, parole and probation reforms. The Assembly Ways and Means
Committee is looking at AB510 which would double good-time credits
for inmates in an effort to ease costly prison overcrowding.

Without reforms, the proposed prison budget is about $547 million, up 29 percent over the current budget.

Lawmakers are looking at funding already in the governor's budget to shift to public education because less tax revenue has been forecast for the coming two years. Lawmakers also are looking at ways to cut spending by $30 million to balance the spending plan.

There's no clear indication yet of what might be cut from the governor's budget plans for new spending to cover the shortfall and any expanded public education proposals.

Possibilities include various one-shot appropriations in Gibbons' budget, such as $170 million to widen Interstate 15 in Las Vegas north of the interchange with U.S. 95, $20 million for the Nevada Cancer Institute, $12 million for Opportunity Village in Southern Nevada and $10 million for the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)