The Legislative Interim Finance Committee on Thursday approved spending $403.9 million in federal COVID-19 education funding.
The vast majority of the money is a direct pass-through to Nevada’s 17 local school districts and public charter schools through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) program contained in the American Rescue Plan.
Of the total, teachers’ representatives highlighted the funding to improve teacher recruitment and retention. Because of the pandemic and the lengthy school closures, they told lawmakers there is a bigger than ever gap between the number of teachers on district payrolls and the number of teachers needed to adequately staff classrooms.
The package approved Thursday includes $15.4 million in ESSER money to support projects designed to bring more teachers to Nevada schools and retain those who might be thinking of leaving.
But it also includes $33.9 million to address learning loss caused by not having classes last year and $6.4 million to support suicide training and prevention programs because suicides among young people have risen during the pandemic.
Another $5.27 million will help identify and provide services to homeless children in the state to enable them to attend school.
More than $1.5 million will help collect early childhood education data and analyze preschool funding needs.
Those programs were all approved unanimously.
IFC also approved $1.1 million in initial funding for the so-called “public option,” a plan approved by Democrats in the 2021 Legislature to study and potentially create a Nevada version of Medicare to provide health benefits to all in the state who don’t get coverage from their employer or elsewhere.
But Thursday’s funding passed without eight Republican members of the panel who expressed concerns about the concept — especially its potential cost.
The money will primarily pay for actuarial studies of the feasibility of the public option and its potential impact on the private health insurance market.
Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert, R-Reno, said she objects to the fact that the legislation, SB420, exempts the entire process from long-standing state purchasing rules. She said those rules should be followed, “given the potential magnitude of this program.”
IFC approved funneling $10 million contributed by T-Mobile after the merger with AT&T to expand broadband into Nevada’s tribal community.
It also approved $549,072 to provide water assistance for low-income households. The state hopes to implement the water program by March. The new federal program piggybacks on the existing Low Income Energy Assistance program that provides funding to make homes occupied primarily by low income seniors more energy efficient. The water assistance will be paid directly to the water company.
Applicants will be able to apply for both programs at the same time on the same form.