Lawmakers Request Federal Aid, Drop Clark County Education Bill In Special Session


(David Calvert/The Nevada Independent via AP, Pool)

The Nevada Senate chambers are seen on the sixth day of the 31st Special Session of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, Nev., on Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

Lawmakers will meet in Carson City this morning for the seventh day of the special session.

And while they haven’t voted on the big budget cuts to education and health care yet, they have been lobbying the federal government for more support.

And a bill that would have benefited the Clark County School District is dead in the water after it lost support – from the district itself.

It was Assembly Bill 2. 

A few years ago, the school district was restructured to give more autonomy to individual schools. Each school was then given a budget that it could spend any way it wanted.

Any carry-over money that wasn't spent could be held to be used for whatever the school needed.  

AB2 would have allowed the district to take that carry-over money back to cover district-wide budget shortfalls, said Steve Sebelius, government and political editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

"The district is looking for money in all sorts of different places. The Legislature is looking at cuts and so these funds look pretty attractive," he said, "It's not just one piggy bank. It's a number of piggy banks that they could collectively take and maybe offset some of the cuts district-wide."

Support comes from

While the idea seems like a good one from the district's point of view, individual schools were not happy because it meant losing money they were promised in the reorganization plan.

Gov. Steve Sisolak and Nevada Department of Education Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert released a statement Tuesday firing back at CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara over the bill.

Jara had said the controversial bill was the state's idea.

According to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the district had requested that the bill be put on the legislative agenda.

"Superintendent Jara disrespected our elected officials and the entire CCSD community by misrepresenting his intentions.," Ebert said in the statement.

“Being superintendent of one of the largest school districts in the nation requires leadership — especially in the midst of a crisis. And leadership requires honesty. Unfortunately, that is not what we get from Superintendent Jara. Clark County students, staff and families deserve better,” Sisolak said in a statement. 

Sebelius said he doesn't have direct knowledge of what happened but he speculates that the district did request the controversial bill, but when it heard back that the bill was a non-starter, the district decided to abandon it but it was too late in the process. The bill came up for a hearing. 

Superintendent Jara didn't attend the hearing and didn't testify on behalf of the bill that his district sought, Sebelius said.

However, John Vellardita, the head of the Clark County teacher's union, did attend. He suggested to lawmakers which schools should give up money and which schools should not.

"That meet with some harsh words as well, from lawmakers who were not pleased or in agreement with how he wanted to spend those funds," Sebelius said.

The underlying problem, Sebelius said, is that moving the money back into the hands of the district would be another change in how schools in Southern Nevada are run.

"Lawmakers didn't want that. They approved the reorganization and now these unprecedented times come along and we're going to change once again how we run things," Sebelius said, "The schools are autonomous until they're not."

He said the ever-changing nature of the district is difficult for everyone from the superintendent down to the teacher in the classroom.

Besides working out the difficult problem of how to cut education funding, the Legislature did pass a resolution asking Congress for more help.

Sebelius noted that the resolution has no real power and is really just an effort to show that lawmakers did all they could to close the budget shortfall.

"This is a hail Mary," he said, "It may, in fact, be that this is what they do in lieu of raising taxes or to be able to say, 'We have literally done everything that we possibly could, including asking the government for more money. We are literally out of options, therefore, taxes or new revenue are the only things that remain open to us." 

As far as Congress is concerned, Sebelius pointed out that the federal government can't simply print more money to cover the requests from Nevada and other states. 

Plus, there is skepticism by some in Congress about how some states, like California, have spent their budgets. Sebelius said lawmakers may not give states any more money because they believe it wasn't spent wisely in the first place.

"They may be caught up in this whole thing of, 'Let's not bail out these states haven't - as far as we're concerned - done the right thing," he said.

While so far the Legislature has really only passed this resolution, Sebelius said work is going on behind the scenes to find solutions to the massive budget shortfall.


Steve Sebelius, Politics and Government Editor, Las Vegas Review-Journal

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