Two GOP Governors, Two Plans to Spend Big on Education in Florida and Nevada

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 21, 2015 3 min read
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In the results from the 36 gubernatorial elections last November, no candidate received a greater share of his or her state’s vote than Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican who picked up a whopping 70.6 percent of the vote in his bid for a second term. Sandoval also happens to be the chairman of the Education Commission of the States.

So with a fresh four-year term in front of him, what does Sandoval have in mind for public schools? Unlike many of his GOP compatriots, Sandoval wants a significant tax increase to be used to increase funding for K-12 in the Silver State. Sandoval wants a $1.1 billion tax hike that changes the state’s business tax structure, with the bulk of new revenue earmarked for K-12.

The majority of that additional funding, $430 million, would go to new education programs, including a new designation of “Victory Schools” that are characterized by their high share of students living in poverty—"Victory Schools” would get $50 million in new cash. And “Zoom Schools,” those with a large proportion of English-language learners, would get $100 million more in his budget. A separate pot, $352 million, would go into general K-12 aid, while the remaining $100 million would be split between expanding pre-kindergarten in the state and increasing the presence of social workers in schools.

While a legislative task force in Nevada recently recommended adopting a weighted funding formula this year to account for disadvantaged students, it’s by no means clear that the state legislature (controlled by Republicans) will go along with increased funding for education. One GOP legislator said in November that “throwing money” at schools hadn’t worked. And public opinion wasn’t on Sandoval’s side last year when 79 percent of voters rejected a tax-increase-for-education measure on the ballot.

Boost for Florida K-12 Spending

One re-elected GOP governor intent on making good on his campaign promise to boost K-12 funding is Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Scott and the Democratic candidate he defeated, Charlie Crist, repeatedly quarreled on the campaign trail about who would provide greater financial support for schools.

So now that he’s going into his second term, Scott has announced his intent to make good on his pledge to raise per-student spending in the Sunshine State to its highest (nominal) level ever, $7,176 per student. That translates into $843 million in new funds for K-12, and total K-12 funding of $19.75 billion proposed in Scott’s fiscal 2016 budget.

As I wrote about, Republicans in control of the Florida legislature may sign off on some form of significant K-12 spending hike, but it may not be where they put a lot of their energy. For example, one of the officials I interviewed for my October story, GOP Rep. Manny Diaz, has introduced a bill attempting to revive the idea of “charter districts” in Florida. And remember, another key legislator for Florida education policy, GOP Rep. Erik Fresen, wants to push for the direct state funding of individual schools.

No “Opportunity” for Schools?

And what about the Democratic governor who’s due to give his State of the State speech Jan. 21?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has unveiled a multi-part “Opportunity Agenda” for 2015 that includes student loan relief, property tax help, and additional resources for a more robust Internet in the Empire State—but there’s nothing in the plan that deals directly with K-12 funding, or any K-12 policy for that matter.

I covered the plans Cuomo apparently has for public schools in an article earlier this month. It will be interesting to see just how many of the ideas Cuomo raised with the state school board actually make it into his State of the State remarks.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.