They came to the Grant Sawyer Building, Southern Nevada’s most visible connection with the Capitol in Carson City, to show that teachers were united, to prove that the community cares about education and to insist that the Legislature needs to support the funding to reduce class sizes.
They came, they shouted, they carried picket signs.
And they were ignored.
The Legislature, as many had expected, failed to take up the issue of a proposed 2 percent tax on businesses with revenue over $1 million annually. (See also Hugh Jackson’s column.) The tax, called a margins tax, has been championed by the Nevada state and Clark County teachers’ unions, which helped gather more than 100,000 signatures to place the issue before the Legislature in ths session.
Some legislators on the Democratic side were openly sympathetic, but the constitutional requirement that the measure receive a two-thirds supermajority in the Assembly and Senate virtually guaranteed that the margins tax would fail, especially in the face of stiff opposition from the business community.
Because the margins tax would be the product of a popular initiative, the Legislature was mandated to consider the issue in the first 40 days of this legislative session — or it would, absent a legal challenge, go to the public for a vote next year. That appears likely now.
At the core of the March 13 protest, and one of the main reasons for the teachers to fight for increased funding, is the issue of class size. Year after year, teachers are assigned more and more students. Clark County already has the largest class sizes of the country’s 20 biggest school districts, the Huffington Post reported March 19.
That doesn’t bother everyone. Nevada Education Superintendent James Guthrie told the Review-Journal’s Trevon Milliard last November that the idea that crowded classrooms hurts education is a “delusion.”
“The U.S. has succumbed to the delusion of small class sizes,” he said then, and has reiterated that position since.
Tell it to the teachers. Mari Finn was one of those carrying a sign at the Grant Sawyer protest. She’s in front of more than 140 students during the school day. “That’s a lot of report cards,” says the teacher at Fremont Elementary near downtown Las Vegas.
She’s not asking for a vacation. Finn said a realistic expectation would be to have 125 students in her several classes.
Finn said she anticipated that the Legislature would not move the margins tax forward, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over.
“I think the public hears us,” she said.
The large class sizes affect teachers at all levels. Debra Cooley teaches two half-day kindergarten classes — 65 children in all. Other teachers carried signs that said they had 35, 39, 42, 43 and 44 kids in individual classes.
Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, the teachers’ union, spoke to the 150 so people — mostly teachers, although a few Culinary Union members also carried picket signs in support — who protested in the warm spring afternoon.
“Act now to provide funding to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes,” he asked the Legislature. “Small class sizes are good enough for private schools and charter schools. They should be good enough for public schools. … Give us the funding and resources necessary for educating our students.”
Finn and others promise that as long as the Legislature is meeting, they will continue to pressure the Assembly, Senate and ultimately Gov. Brian Sandoval to provide those resources.
Whether the money ultimately comes from a business margins tax, a tax hike on Nevada’s highly profitable hardrock mining industry or some combination of other revenue, the teachers say they’re not giving up. They are asking other teachers and allies to attend a joint legislative hearing of the Senate Finance Committee and Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Saturday, March 23, at 9 a.m., in Carson City and at the Grant Sawyer building in Las Vegas.
“We’re going to fight for it,” Finn said at the earlier protest. “It’s not over. It’s never over.”