Battle lines drawn in fight of education funding

After two days of stalled negotiations, the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday decided to unilaterally close public school budgets.

That seemed to get things moving again -- prompting the Assembly Ways and Means Committee to kill its education package.

While the two plans have major differences over teacher salaries, nearly all the other issues seemed settled -- at least as far as funding is concerned.

Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, said they are actually only about $30 million apart on education funding.

The actions of the two committees also pretty much finalize the budget proposals before each house, setting the total amount lawmakers must raise in taxes to run the state for the next two years.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said the Senate plan adds nearly $100 million to what Gov. Kenny Guinn proposed for education and is close to what the Assembly agreed to.

"We just need to take some action to give those who prepare (the budget) some direction,' said Raggio. "I believe we now have a potential for closing the DSA."

The Senate plan includes the 2 percent pay raise proposed by Guinn next year and adds 2 percent more in fiscal 2005. That will increase the distributive school account about $37 million.

Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, said the Assembly plan includes 3 percent each year of the biennium. That will add a total of $97.9 million over that period. In addition, the Assembly committee voted to add one day to the 2005 school year -- costing $11 million.

Most of the funding added by the Senate comes from the $67.9 million in flexible grant money being made available by the federal government under the federal tax cut plan.

The Senate budget plan will require $848.7 million in new revenue to fund. That is nearly $300 million more than the $558.7 million tax package approved by the Senate Taxation Committee Tuesday.

The Assembly budget plan will require $930.6 million in new tax revenues over the biennium. That is $73 million more than the $857.7 million the Assembly Taxation Committee plan produces. But the Assembly can cover most of that difference with the $67.9 million one-time grant.

Raggio said Wednesday that the Republican caucus planned to meet into the evening to try work out an agreement to increase the Senate tax package enough to cover the proposed budget.

Beyond teacher salaries, the Senate and Assembly still disagree over giving school districts flexibility in using class-size-reduction money. But both have agreed to fund the full $223.4 million in Guinn's budget.

Both also agreed to give up the governor's full-day kindergarten proposal this biennium and to convert stipends and bonuses for teachers into extra credit toward retirement for teachers in at-risk schools and for those teaching certain classes, including math, science and special education.

The committees also agreed to put some money in reserve, in case teacher health-care plan costs increase more than the 10 percent budgeted by Guinn. The schools can go to the Interim Finance Committee if they need the money.


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