In February of 2018, then-gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak made a campaign promise that if elected governor, he'd donate his entire salary to public education.
"As governor of Nevada, I will not take a salary until our schools are back on track. Instead, until we get this problem solved, I will donate my salary to nonprofits that help support educators and students in and out of the classroom," he said at a press event at the time.
Now, Sisolak is making good on his promise. On Wednesday, the governor announced that he had given his first check, for $24,654.79, to the Nevada Department of Education's Education Gift Fund. He plans to make quarterly donations.
"I asked the people of Nevada for the chance to lead this state for many reasons, chief among them being the opportunity to improve educational outcomes for every child in every classroom in the state," said Sisolak in a statement. "To show my commitment to this goal, the First Lady and I are donating my net state salary back to public education. It is my sincere hope that with these donations, I can begin to fulfill my promise to our educators, families, and children and make a positive impact on our public schools."
Sisolak is Nevada's first Democratic governor in decades and ran on a platform that included reforming education spending, drawing on his experience serving for 10 years as a Nevada System of Higher Education regent. Before entering politics, Sisolak founded and ran a telemarketing business.
According to Sisolak's statement, the Governor will donate the net of his $163,474 salary, and has instructed Department of Education officials to evenly divide his gift among the state's 416 Title I schools — schools with high percentages of low-income students — so that each school receives at least $1,000 over his four years in office.
The gift is relatively small compared to the size of Nevada's education budget — The Guinn Center reports that Nevada's budget allocates nearly $6.6 billion to education — but draws attention to the need for increased education funding. "This unprecedented gesture serves to highlight the need for more funding in our schools now," Keenan Korth, communications specialist for a Nevada teachers union, tells CNN.
In the years following the great recession, education funding was slashed in states across the country and Nevada experienced some of the greatest cuts. According to most-recent data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CPBB), American elementary and high schools cut capital spending by $23 billion, or 31%, between 2008 and 2015. Nevada's budget made the deepest cuts to capital spending, which was reduced by 82%.
The CPBB reports that during those years, Nevada reduced per-pupil state funding for pre-K students by 39.5% (about $1,448 after adjusting for inflation) and the student-to-teacher ratio in Nevada rose from 18.3 to 21.2.
Sisolak has called for restoring education funding to at least pre-recession levels and proposes shifting money from the state's hotel and marijuana taxes towards schools.
During his first State of the State Address in January, the Governor emphasized his focus on education. "So far we've talked about a number of important issues," he said. "But there is no issue more important to me than making sure every child in every classroom gets a great education."
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