Education needs a Hail Mary pass

Updated: Jan 28, 2018

Do we support and invest in the real future of our state — our students? That is the question we hope the Nevada Legislature went back to work Monday in a special session to consider regarding Senate Bill 1, the Southern Nevada Tourism Improvements Act. This is the bill establishing a stadium district for the public financing of an NFL stadium project.

The proposed $1.9 billion stadium would be funded with $750 million in public tax money from SB1, $650 million from private developers, and a $500 million investment by the Raiders.

Within SB1, lawmakers are considering increasing the hotel room tax by 0.88 percent on the Strip and 0.5 percent in the rest of Clark County to raise money for the stadium to (possibly) bring the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas.

Last week after doing a quick about-face, Gov. Brian Sandoval removed a proposal from this plan that would adjust the hotel tax to shore up an anticipated shortfall in public education funding. He was quoted as saying “… I have decided that any potential budget challenges for the next biennium will be addressed during the next regular session” that starts in February.

This leaves the funding of education hanging in the balance. Again. Do you think legislators will be likely to put another billion of public monies in education — monies that are needed to fund the billion dollar weighted funded formula from last session — after funding a private football stadium project? Not likely. We can’t stop the momentum from last session now. Legislators need to keep their eye on the real prize: Raising the bar on Nevada education once and for all.

To put things into perspective it helps to understand the 50-year history behind the hotel room tax and how it impacts funding our public education. This Las Vegas Sun article explains the tax and the history of how the money earmarked for education doesn’t stay in education.

In short, in 2009 the legislature passed an advisory measure, Initiative Petition No. 1 (IP 1), that enacted an additional room tax of up to 3 percent for public education. This tax increase was intended “to improve the achievement of students and for the payment of salaries to attract and retain qualified teachers…” Additional language was included to ensure that the funds would “supplement and not replace any other money appropriated, approved or authorized for expenditure to fund the operation of the public schools…”

However, citing lingering effects of the recession in each of the last three legislative sessions, all the funds from this additional room tax were “temporarily” diverted to help balance the budget (see The Nevada Plan, search for IP 1). Over the course of the last five years, roughly $750 million of room tax money has been diverted from student achievement and educator salaries to supplant the state’s general fund obligation to the Distributive Schools Account.

And here we are again with SB1 poised to do more of the same, leaving Nevada’s students under-funded in exchange for a … football stadium.

Make your voice heard via the National State Education Association’s petition, by contacting the Senate Committee of the Whole Chair Sen. Michael Roberson and Vice Chair Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, or contact your senators and assemblymen directly. (And don’t forget to tell them you’re a HOPE member.) 

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