Nevada Senate Approves State Education Budget

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The Nevada Senate gave final legislative approval Friday to $2.3 billion in state general fund dollars for K-12 education, clearing the way for the rest of the state's budget to be approved and the legislative session to finish by Monday.

The Senate action on AB627 sends the measure to Gov. Jim Gibbons. As a result of a 2006 voter mandate pushed by Gibbons, the education budget had to be approved before other state spending plans.

The public schools funding includes $66.4 million for full-day kindergarten, including $15 million to add 63 new schools to the program. There's also $9 million for a new empowerment program.

Both initiatives were big factors in negotiations over the budget.

Democrats had wanted full-day kindergarten in all 340 elementary schools in the state. Full-day kindergarten now is offered in 114 schools where more than 55 percent of students qualify for free or reduced cost lunches.

AB627 provides an average $5,122 in per-pupil support in 2008, and $5,323 per student in 2009, up from $4,696 this year. In the second year of the coming budget cycle, the per-pupil spending will be 13 percent higher than the current level.

The bill includes a 2 percent raise for teachers in 2008 and a 4 percent raise in 2009. It also provides $54 million to continue a retirement credit program to encourage teachers to stay in their jobs. Gov. Jim Gibbons had tried to take money from those retirement incentives and put it toward an empowerment program.

The budget also allots $294 million for salaries and benefits for at least 2,201 teachers to help keep class sizes small.

There had been no doubt the bill would be approved since a Tuesday news conference when Gibbons and legislative leaders announced an agreement on the $7 billion budget for all government operations over the next two years.

When that's added to federal funds and other revenue sources, the total spending for ongoing government programs hits about $18 billion. That overall figure is up 15 percent over the current two-year budget cycle.

Just over half of all general fund dollars are for K-12 and higher education. Another 29-30 percent goes to human services, including Medicaid and mental health services while about 10 percent would be used for public safety, including the state's prison system.

The balance of the spending in the governor's tentative budget would go to commerce and industry-related agencies, constitutional offices and other special-service government operations.

About a third of the projected revenue that would support the spending comes from sales and use taxes, and another 28 percent comes from fees and taxes paid mainly by casinos. The balance comes from various insurance and business levies, real estate transfer taxes, secretary of state fees and from taxes on liquor and cigarettes.

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