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Sisolak: Education is Fully Funded


Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. Image: Ty O’Neil.

By Don Dike Anukam and Bob Conrad

Audio file of the entire press conference today.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, and Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro today announced two new bills that will divert cannabis money to pay for education.

Senate Bill 545 revises the distribution of the excise tax on marijuana from the rainy day fund to the state’s Distributive School Account, a part of the general fund that funds school districts.

Last session, marijuana retail excise tax money did not go where it should have due to political gamesmanship,” Sisolak said. “We are here today to say that’s going to be fixed this session.”

The amount: $120 million for the biennium.

Former Governor Brian Sandoval earmarked that money for school safety improvements and the Millennium Scholarship fund. Sisolak said that he hoped those items would continued to be funded from other sources but did not say where.

Nevada State Senator Ben Kieckhefer noted on Twitter that the excise tax shift was coming from school safety initiatives and the Millenium Scholarship fund.

Washoe County School Board Trustees, 2019. Left to right, standing: Dr. Angie Taylor, Andrew Caudill, Jacqueline Calvert, Scott Kelley and Ellen Minetto. Seated: Katy Simon Holland and Malena Raymond. Image: Ty O’Neil.

The announcement comes in the wake of the state’s largest school districts — Washoe and Clark — bemoaning the cost of living adjustments (COLA) for their employees. Washoe County School District last month revised its budget cut projections to include the COLAs, a calculation that more than doubled the district’s deficit, from $7.5 million to nearly $18 million.

A visibly irked Sisolak said today that the original governor’s budget included the COLAs but somehow education school district budgets from around the state kept changing in recent months. He repeatedly insisted that the budgets were fully funded.

“We took Governor Sandoval’s budget and got to make some adjustments,” he said. “We received education budgets of every school district. We fully funded every single one of those budgets. We fully funded merit increases. We fully funded 3% pay raises, and [then there are] deficits of a moving target.

“We fully funded the budgets [from school districts] that we were given. Now that’s getting lost out there in the discussion.

“The problem is that it now leaves a $120 million hole in the general fund that has to be back-filled. Let’s see what that comes from.”

When asked why WCSD’s new budget projections jumped so dramatically so quickly last month, school district spokesperson Victoria Campbell replied:

“WCSD calculated the budget based upon the best information available to us earlier this year. As we received more details from the State regarding our funding going forward, we adjusted our budget accordingly, which accounts for the recent increase in the structural deficit.”

Nevada Assemblyman
Jim Wheeler (R).

Sisolak said that school districts could be more transparent about how they are spending their money.

“Where the school district is spending the money, could there be an increased transparency there?” he asked rhetorically. “Yeah, there probably could. I think this is going to cause some increased transparency, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Republican Assemblyman Jim Wheeler said a big question was raised in regard to Sisolak’s announcement.

“In 2017, the Democrats decided not to put that money into education,” he said. “I believe the spirit of what people wanted was for all marijuana taxes to go to education funding, so I think this is the correct thing to do.

“The problem is that it now leaves a $120 million hole in the general fund that has to be back-filled. Let’s see what that comes from.”

Wheeler also called for a legislative audit of school districts.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR.