ESA debate prompts talks over other ways to fund public education

This story originally aired on February 9, 2017, and you can watch it here.

LAS VEGAS – The debate over education funding is heating up both in Las Vegas and the state capital.

In Carson City, lawmakers grilled representatives from the State Treasurer’s Office over the controversial Educations Savings Account program.

Angela Best’s three children all attend schools in Clark County.

“I am very concerned about how we’re funding and how we’re handling our education system,” Best said.

Nevada ranks near the bottom in per-pupil funding.  The state is 42nd in the country as of 2014.

The Education Law Center calls Nevada’s public school funding mechanism “regressive.”  The organization’s director says funding has held relatively steady at about $7,400 per student, which earns the state an “F” rating.

“It’s what we call a ‘low-effort state,’ it’s just not stepping up, the politicians aren’t stepping up to the plate, and making the tough decisions to put money into the system,” according to David Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center.

However, in this year’s State Of The State address, Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-NV, touted reforms his administration spearheaded in 2015, which included pushing the commerce tax through the legislature.

The commerce tax was the largest single tax hike in state history to bring more money to education.

“When it comes to public education, my commitment is to always, always put Nevada’s children first,” Sandoval said.

As the state works on a new funding model, Gov. Sandoval has also proposed an additional $107 million for K-12 schools.

“Tonight, I’m announcing my plan to continue to invest in a weighted student funding formula that works for every child,” Sandoval said.

“This state has a huge problem, our education system,” according to Schwarz.

State Treasurer Dan Schwartz says some of the funding increase should go toward schools, but on the other hand, he says simply throwing more money at schools isn’t the right way to fix things.

Schwartz said having a choice is the answer.

“It’s not your decision, it’s the parents’ decision, and that’s the whole point behind the parental choice,” Sschwartz said.

In the meantime, a lot of parents feel it’s best for the government to get out of the way.

“I feel like we need to empower our teachers more, Best said.  “They know what they’re doing; we’ve been taken the power away from them.”

Governor Sandoval has proposed $60 million to fund ESA’s over the next two years.  The state treasurer says that’s $20 million under what’s needed.

Democrats say that they have no interest in passing any funding for the program. It was ruled unconstitutional by the Nevada State Supreme Court in 2015 because the program would have been funded out of the same pool of money as public schools.