By Jeri Davis and Lucia Starbuck
Amendment No. 7 to Assembly Bill 3—a massive bill that proposes cuts to public education in the state as well as Nevada’s Department of Health and Human services and its departments—was swiftly passed today by members of Nevada’s Assembly. It still needs Senate approval.
The amendment authorizes the transfer of $50,000,000 in CARES Act funding. These funds will be used to develop the capability for Nevada’s schools to provide “alternative intensive instruction, including, without limitation, providing Internet connectivity to pupils and developing and providing programs to mitigate deficits in educational attainment,” to categories of students identified by the Nevada Superintendent Jhone Ebert.
These categories of students are meant to represent those who are most likely to develop the largest deficits in educational attainment as a result of losing out on in-person instruction.
It also applies to plans made to support students who attend a public school that is rated at or below the 10th percentile of lowest performing schools, as determined by the Department of Education—and “any other category of pupils that the Superintendent of Public Instruction determines to be likely to develop a disproportionate deficit in educational attainment as a result of the loss of in-person intensive instruction.”
The bill’s language was careful to include both charter and public schools as eligible for the grants. This has caused questions in past sessions when proposed legislation has been put under the microscope by both legislators and the public to determine if it could violate the section of Nevada’s Constitution addressing education that includes what is known as its uniformity clause for schools. Article 11, Section 2 of Nevada’s Constitution, Uniform System of Common Schools, states, “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools.”
Assembly members spoke on the amendment prior to their vote.
Assembly member Robin Titus (R-Churchill and Lyon Counties) said that Republicans have been saying there is money available.
“Thanks for finding it,” she said. “And thanks for prioritizing children.”
Assembly member Richard Carrillo (D-Clark County)—who voted in favor of the bill—noted that he is disappointed about cuts that remain to state workers.
He said he thought it “unfair and unjust to expect this kind of sacrifice from those who can’t afford it,” noting that many state workers make $15 an hour or less. He said, however, that he was pleased that the number of furlough days required through AB3 has been cut in half from 12 to 6.
Assembly Democrat Teresa Benitez-Thompson brought up her time working with medically fragile seniors and children on welfare in expressing her support for the amended AB3. She said it is the state’s job to provide a safety net for its citizens to catch them when they fall.
“Our families are falling right now. Our students are falling right now,” she said.
The money from grants must be spent by Dec. 30, 2020, and there are restrictions as to how funds may be spent.
It has to be accounted for on a per pupil basis and separately from any other money received by a school district or charter school and used only for programs to help students. Funds can’t be used to settle or arbitrate disputes between teacher unions and school districts or to settle any negotiations.
The bill also says it may “not be used to adjust the district-wide schedules of salaries and benefits of the employees of a school district.”
The amended AB3 passed the Assembly in a vote of 36 to 6—with six Republicans voting against it.
The night before, it had passed in a vote of 29 to 13. Among the Assembly members who voted “nay” on the measure yesterday but voted in favor of AB3 today were Titus, Jill Tolles (R-Washoe County), John Hambrick (R-Clark County), Melissa Hardy (R-Clark County), Alexis Hansen (R-Esmeralda, Humboldt, Lander, Mineral, Nye (Part), Pershing, Washoe (Part) Counties), Glen Leavitt (R-Clark County) and Tom Roberts (R-Clark County).
Dems comment after bill’s passage
After AB3 was approved today, Assemblyman Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Clark County) and Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Clark County) held a press conference.
“We followed through on some items that we had been working on for some time leading up to the special session, and making sure that the kids that are going to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and the pandemic, and certainly distanced learning, that we made sure that we at least put forth an effort to try to slow that disparate impact that this whole situation is going to have on them,” Frierson said.
Frierson and Cannizzaro said they were happy that $50 million will be distributed from the CARES Act to K-12 education, but were still frustrated that Assembly Bill 4, which was slated to bring in $100 million for K-12 education, failed by one Republican senate vote last night.
“I think any progress is good progress,” Frierson said, “You know, I think I’m relieved to some extent that we can make some difference, but we’re nowhere near where we’d like to be, and, so, we were excited about the notion of the $100 million going into education, and the fact that that’s not happening is a disappointment.”
Cannizzaro commented on the furloughs and vacant positions state employees are facing.
“What you’re seeing is that as a result of vacant positions, they are being asked to do more in the jobs that they were hired to do, and too many times, you know, are doing it for much less money than we probably think that they make,” Cannizzaro said, “I think that saying that six days of furloughs is somehow some massive way in which to say that we don’t value other things is not accurate.
“We still have state workers who are going to take significant time without pay, and they’re going to have to figure out how to balance that. I think one of our goals in looking at this budget in a comprehensive fashion was to ease pain across the board. There’s still a lot of pain in this budget,” Cannizzaro added.
Gov. Steve Sisolak released a statement on the passing of AB3 in the Assembly.
“While we may not be allowed under federal restrictions to use CRF dollars to fund budgeted programs reduced or eliminated due to the state’s dramatic revenue shortfall, we can use these dollars for new programs to help those directly impacted by COVID-19.”
UPDATE: Public comment criticizes cuts to education
Lawmakers in the senate also heard AB3 and allowed for public comment. The measure only got a few callers in support, including Stephanie Goodman, the executive director of The Dr. Robert Hunter International Problem Gambling Center.
Sisolak originally proposed that $2 million be cut from the state’s problem gambling program, leaving it with roughly $600,000. AB3 only cuts $1 million.
“I’m grateful for this bill. I run the largest center here in Nevada, and we really are helping people. We’re changing lives. Problem gambling is a huge problem in our community,” Goodman said.
An overwhelming majority of the public comment went on to criticize the bill. Opposition came from education advocates, teachers, parents with school-aged children and some college student body presidents and staff.
Advocates say budget cuts will hurt schools’ abilities to keep students safe upon returning during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as Sisolak postponed a second special session due to concerns about spikes of COVID-19 in the state.
As Sisolak does this, and schools in Nevada are slated to reopen in fall, Nevadans are questioning: how are schools safe?
Alexander Marks with the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) raised some of these concerns.
“A statement made just weeks before many educators will return to schools,” Marks said in regards to Sisolak’s announcement to postpone the second special session. “This ties directly into what NSEA has been stating this entire session: cutting the budgets while safely reopening is just not possible. We need to fund what is necessary to ensure the safety of students, educators, our families and our communities. Even with all of the safeguards in place in Carson City, which every school should have, even you all are being sent home from work. Nevada educators want to get back to our classrooms and school sites more than anybody, but the phrase, ‘Back to school,’ now means something entirely different.”
Even though AB3 brought in $50 million from the CARES Act, it still cut more than $30 million for the Read by Three program and nearly $70 million promised for the New Nevada Funding Formula, a move some are saying will be detrimental.
AB3 also reduces the Nevada System of Higher Education’s (NSHE) budget by $135 million. This cut makes educators worried about the impacts on students and their access to classes and services that keep them on track to graduate.
The College of Southern Nevada (CSN) student body president, Karli Kelly, spoke out against the bill.
“I chose to attend CSN partly because it’s what my family can afford, being that I come from an ethnic minority, single-parent household,” Kelly said. “I, like many of my constituents, can barely afford the cost of college even while receiving financial aid and working part time. The additional cuts, like the proposed, will only lead to tuition increase, which will only burden me with the idea of going into financial debt before I complete my undergraduate degree.
“It’s already difficult being a black woman pursuing an education and a career in a STEM program, but CSN continues to provide me with an abundance of resources needed for me to effectively complete my degree. And, if the budget cuts are made, I’m afraid a handful of those resources will disappear, putting a pause on my near graduation date of spring 2021,” Kelly added.
While a majority of the public comment, including the nearly 700 written comments, talked about education, the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services will also be facing a steep cut. Lawmakers were able to restore about $80 million back into public health services like Medicaid.
Julia Ratti (D-Washoe County) said her inbox is full with educators voicing concerns about cuts to education and state employees expressing fears about furloughs, but reductions in health services are not getting as much attention.
“I don’t have a ton of emails from folks in health and human services, because let’s just face it: If you are families that are very low income, who are struggling to survive, or struggling with caring for a loved one, you probably don’t have the time to follow what we’re doing here,” Ratti said.
Ratti also shared her frustration that lawmakers were not able to bring in additional revenue to offset some of the cuts and said lawmakers will have to address these issues in the near future.
“I think what we’ve done is we’ve accomplished a bridge,” Ratti said. “The bridge is a little shaky, maybe isn’t as solid as we would like to be, but it’s a bridge that gets us from here, today, to February when we will all be together again for a regular session, and we will do the very hard work of reevaluating our budget under likely challenging circumstances.”
Senator Dallas Harris (D-Clark County) called the cuts to education and health devastating and echoed Senate Democrats’ dismay at the failing of AB4, which would have collected additional tax revenue from mines.
“We’re asking for a lot from those who have very little, while neglecting to ask anything from an industry that happens to be doing quite well during this pandemic,” Harris said. “The only way I can justify taking this vote today is because I know with certainty that this fight is not over. We have historically underfunded services in this state, and it’s clear now [more] than ever that this is not sustainable. I’m encouraged by the indications that my colleagues across the aisle are open to having a discussion on how we fund our government during the next regular session, and I intend to hold them to that. Know that I don’t take this vote lightly, and recognize that we must and can do better.”
The senate voted unanimously to approve AB3.