Vegas teachers start drive for sales tax hike to raise $1B

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Just days after beginning an initiative drive to increase casino taxes, Las Vegas-area teachers filed a petition to increase Nevada sales taxes and raise more than $1 billion per year for schools.

The political action group Fund Our Schools, backed by the Clark County Education Association, submitted documents Wednesday to seek a statewide vote to raise the school support tax by 1.5%, to 4.1%. That would push sales taxes in Las Vegas and Clark County to nearly 9.9%.

Union officials chose to seek a hike in the sales tax because it is already earmarked for education and provides 47 percent of funding for public schools, association executive John Vellardita told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Nevada has no income tax.

It comes after a new political committee backed by the union, Nevadans for Fair Gaming Taxes, filed a petition Monday to begin collecting signatures to amend the state Constitution to increase taxes on the largest casinos in the state.

That effort aims to raise some $315 million a year for the state treasury by adding a fourth tier to state casino taxes. It would collect 9.75% of monthly gross revenue from casinos taking in more than $250,000.

A three-tiered casino tax now tops out at 6.75%.

Both measures will need at least 98,000 signatures by next November to advance.

The union represents about 19,000 teachers in the Clark County School District. It's the nation’s fifth-largest district with about 320,000 students at more than 350 schools.

Nevada public schools have for years ranked at or near the bottom nationally in spending per student, class size and performance.

Education Week’s annual Quality Counts 2019 report card ranked Nevada 50th overall among the states and District of Columbia and 48th in the nation in school finance. The state’s K-12 education system ranked 35th for achievement, up from 40th in 2018.

The Nevada Department of Education’s accountability portal puts the statewide graduation rate at 83%, the highest ever and up a little less than 10% from 2017.

The National Center for Education Statistics ranked Nevada’s public high school graduation rate in 2017 at 43rd among the states and District of Columbia.