County commissioners, school trustees start dialogue about how extra sales tax money could improve education

Nevada News

Clark County commissioners and school trustees batted around ideas Thursday night about how extra money — courtesy of a potential sales tax increase — could improve education.

The recent passage of AB309, which gave county commissioners the power to increase the sales tax by one quarter of one percent in Clark County, was the impetus for the joint meeting. If enacted, the sales tax boost could generate an estimated $108 million a year. The legislation, however, lays out four specific education uses for the money: early childhood education, adult education, truancy-reduction programs and teacher recruitment and retention incentives.

Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick said she would like to see money go toward a “performance-based service” for pre-kindergarten that includes a standard curriculum across municipalities and four hours of instruction for students. 

Additional money could expand the number of students who receive such early childhood education. Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara noted that roughly 28,000 students need pre-kindergarten, but fewer than 10,000 receive it. 

“I think if we could stretch dollars, we could do so much more,” Kirkpatrick said.

Trustee Linda Cavazos set the stage for the truancy discussion by saying that multiple factors, including transiency, unstable home environments and transportation issues, play a role in chronic absenteeism, which stood at 18.7 percent districtwide during the 2018-2019 school year. But she advised against a “cookie-cutter approach” to the problem given different climates and challenges at each school.

Commissioner Justin Jones suggested expanding The Harbor, an assessment center that aims to keep children out of the juvenile justice system. The Harbor, which launched in 2016, is essentially a one-stop social services shop where at-risk children and their families can receive services such as mentoring, drug education, counseling, anger-control classes and cognitive behavior therapy.

Similarly, Jones said the county and school district should consider replicating a pilot program that exists at Manch Elementary School in northeast Las Vegas. Boys Town Nevada has partnered with the school to provide family support services that help keep students in class.

The commissioners and trustees also discussed the best ways to bolster adult education and make it easier for the district to attract and retain teachers in high-vacancy schools. For instance, could schools with top-notch career and technical education programs stay open later to allow adult learners the opportunity to get workforce certification?

Cavazos said labor unions could help with expanding access to adult education.

“I don’t think we’re using them enough, and they want to help us,” she said.

No decisions were made Thursday night, though. Kirkpatrick said the commission and school board should continue gathering information.

AB309, sponsored by Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, emerged a few weeks before the end of the session as the Clark County School District raised concerns that it did not have enough money to pay the teacher raises that Gov. Steve Sisolak promised. It passed on party-line votes, with Republicans opposed.

If commissioners approve the tax increase, it could free up other money for basic K-12 instruction.

Using the funds for core instruction would violate a constitutional provision that all the state’s districts must be funded equitably. It’s unlikely that all counties in the state would approve the tax increase, creating disparities.

Another authorized use is for union-affiliated workforce training programs within the hospitality industry. That option — created through a last-minute amendment sponsored by former Culinary Union political director and state Sen. Yvanna Cancela — is meant to support job training programs within the state’s largest employment sector.

Clark County’s sales tax stands at 8.25 cents per dollar. That revenue is divided among several uses, including the state general fund, local municipalities, the Clark County School District, flood control, the Regional Transportation Commission, the water authority and police, through More Cops.

Michelle Rindels contributed to this report.

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