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On Eve Of Strike Vote, Is There More Money For Teachers?

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Eric Westervelt/NPR

Jessica Adams formerly worked at the Planet Hollywood casino and resort. Now she teaches fourth grade at Robert Forbuss Elementary School.

Democrats are in charge of Nevada’s Legislature. They have a Democratic governor to sign their bills into law.

But if voters think that means everything they want gets done, there are realities that get in the way.

A big one is money.

Teachers were promised more money by Governor Steve Sisolak, but a plan for that has yet to surface.

"Right now, as we're talking, there is a subcommittee that is hearing the governor's proposed education budget," Las Vegas Assemblyman Steve Yeager told KNPR's State of Nevada Thursday. "Some of those decisions are being made right now to figure out if there is money there and how it's going to be allocated."

Yeager said the teacher raises are a big priority for the governor. 

"I think we're going to do everything we can to find a way to allocate the money so that teachers get the raises that they deserve and that they're expecting," he said.

Another important education funding issue on the legislative agenda is changing the funding formula. The formula has been around since the 60s and almost everyone agrees it does not address the problems Nevada schools today.

Yeager said the State Senate is working on making changes to the formula.

"If we do this restructuring correctly, we can free up money for some of these things that we've talked about to make sure our kids that need the resources are getting those resources," the assemblyman said.

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Yeager admits those two education spending issues are tough and there isn't much time left in the legislative session but he said the lawmakers work "almost 24 hours a day it seems at times," and he is confident that lawmakers will make those key decisions.

He also admitted there is only so much money in the state budget to work with so tough decisions about where that money needs to go to the most will have to be made.

"There are a lot of different departments and agencies that have needs and have wants and requests and we're simply not able to accommodate them all with the funding that we have. So, we may be in the position where we're going to have to make some difficult decisions," he said.

It is not just education funding that is one of the big issues being tackled in Carson City right now. A major reform of Nevada's criminal justice system is also making its way through the Legislature.

Yeager said one change proposed in the bill would address the burglary laws. He said the state has some the broadest burglary laws in the country, pointing out that in Nevada someone stealing a candy bar from a convenience store is treated the same as someone breaking into a home. 

If passed, the bill would put more levels of burglary to better align the penalties with the criminal activity.

There are also changes to the mandatory minimum sentencing, giving judges more flexibility when it comes to sentencing.

Yeager said if Nevada is looking at directing more money to education, trimming the Department of Corrections budget by sending fewer non-violent offenders to prison could be the way.

"We just had a whole conversation about trying to find additional money for additional priorities. If we can trim from our corrections budget and I'm sure we can, we're going to be able to free up money," he said.

Yeager said if the state continues on the trajectory it is on now in regards to criminal justice the state would have to build two more prisons in the next ten years.

While lawmakers tackle teacher raises, the funding formula and criminal justice reform, they're also dealing the with the sudden death of Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson.

Thompson died unexpectedly last week.

"He was such a special human being," Yeager said, "He just had a way of making everyone feel special. He was always interested in what you were doing despite the fact that he was working on all kinds of things on his own."

Guests

Assemblyman Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas

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