By Jackie Valley, The Nevada Independent
Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt released his education plan Wednesday and vowed to not reduce K-12 spending despite his hope to repeal the Commerce Tax, which is projected to bring in nearly $400 million in the next biennium.
His eight-point platform builds on Gov. Brian Sandoval’s signature education reforms while also expanding school choice, rewarding and developing teachers, enhancing career and technical education programs, improving school safety and creating an online tool that would track where public education dollars wind up.
But the overarching question about his education platform has been this: How does Laxalt plan to pull off maintaining Sandoval’s reforms and current funding levels while also implementing his own ideas without relying on the Commerce Tax revenue?
Laxalt, the attorney general, has said he would support repealing the controversial business tax if there’s a ballot initiative to do so — a stance that has caused friction between him and Sandoval, a fellow Republican.
The governor championed the Commerce Tax in the 2015 legislative session primarily as a means for funneling more money into the K-12 system. Sandoval has called Laxalt’s desire to repeal the tax a “slap in the face” to Nevada families and the education system, jeopardizing some of the programs created during his tenure to help the state’s most vulnerable children.
Laxalt said Wednesday that “hundreds of millions of dollars” tied to economic growth would cover that gap, along with revenue from marijuana taxes and finding efficiencies in state government.
“The combination of all those should more than cover what we have now,” he said.
The attorney general said he doesn’t foresee economic activity nosediving in Nevada anytime soon. As for the portion of marijuana tax revenue that wound up in the state’s rainy day fund, Laxalt said he would work with the Legislature to designate uses for that money. He suggests putting that revenue toward education as well as preventing youth drug addiction and law enforcement needs.
“These are some of the areas we should look,” he said.
What his plan doesn’t mention: Revamping the state’s education funding formula, which has come under increasing scrutiny as school districts have battled budget problems.
Instead, a key aspect of his plan is the creation of an “Education Checkbook,” which would allow Nevada residents to see how all public education dollars are being spent. It’s a bid to bolster funding transparency across the state.
“One of the most important things we must do is ensure that we are investing our education dollars efficiently and effectively, and as Governor, I will demand increased accountability for education spending,” he wrote in his plan. “We owe our students, our parents, and the hard-working Nevadans whose tax dollars fund our education system nothing less.”
The attorney general said the idea is still in its early stages, but he envisions an online database that’s user-friendly and “digestible.”
“Accountability is incredibly important,” he said. “You hear that everywhere. People are concerned whether or not these school districts are spending the money appropriately and enough money is getting into the classroom.”
Laxalt shared his education platform with a group of educators Wednesday afternoon in his Las Vegas campaign headquarters. The campaign invited members of the “Teachers for Laxalt” coalition to attend the roundtable discussion, a spokesman said.
Other aspects of Laxalt’s education plan include:
• Rewarding educators by doubling the reimbursement for teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses, requiring school districts to honor raises for teachers who have completed further professional training and giving monetary incentives to the highest-performing schools.
• Streamlining the approval process for new charter schools hoping to open in Nevada and, conversely, making it easier to shut doon poorly performing charter schools.
• Expanding the Opportunity Scholarship Program and continuing to support Education Savings Accounts.
• Improving the teacher pipeline by creating a scholarship program that’s tied to high-need classroom jobs and would guarantee those new teachers remain in Nevada for a certain time period post-graduation.
• Expanding funding to develop more career and technical education programs that would prepare students for in-demand jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree.
• Overhauling the structure of the Washoe and Clark County school boards to include appointed members in addition to elected trustees.
• Bolstering school safety through a multi-pronged approach involving more training for active-shooter situations, additional school police officers and mental health teams, among other avenues.
Jim Blockey, who taught for 22 years in the Clark County School District, was one of the roundtable participants. He told Laxalt that educators do more parenting than teaching nowadays, which hampers academic progress.
Laxalt thanked the attendees for their feedback and emphasized that his platform is the “first installment” of his education plans.
Blockey’s initial assessment of Laxalt’s platform: “It’s like with any other education platform: It sounds really good,” he said. “How do you implement it?”
Another attendee — Joseph Palmaffy, who teaches technology at Pinecrest Academy Cadence — said he was walking away with an overall good impression of Laxalt’s plan. As a teacher at a charter school, Palmaffy said he was encouraged by the attorney general’s determination to expand school choice in Nevada.
Several charter school teachers, including Palmaffy, asked whether Laxalt would divert more state funds to charter schools. Laxalt didn’t commit to that, saying his first priority is expanding charter schools by fast-tracking the approval process for ones with proven records of success.
That answer didn’t totally satisfy Palmaffy, who said after the event that he’d like more information about how Laxalt plans to improve funding for charter schools. Palmaffy said he works several side jobs to supplement his income because charter-school teachers make less money than their peers in traditional public-school systems.
Even so, Palmaffy remained supportive of Laxalt when asked if the attorney general had his vote.
“Right now, I think so,” he said.
Republican Senate Leader Michael Roberson, who’s running for lieutenant governor, also attended Laxalt’s education roundtable. Roberson supported the Commerce Tax in the 2015 legislative session and, since then, has defended his decision.
Roberson on Wednesday declined to discuss Laxalt’s proposed repeal of the Commerce Tax.
“This is Adam’s event, not mine,” he said. “I’m here to support Adam and his education agenda today.”
This article reprinted with permission from The Nevada Independent. Those interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org