Characterizing it as a necessary first step toward fixing Nevada’s lackluster education system, Senate Democrats on Monday introduced their attempt to simplify and update the labyrinthian half-a-century-old K-12 funding formula. But because the bill does not dedicate additional dollars toward education as a whole, it is already being criticized as the reslicing of a pie that is quite simply too small to feed everyone at the table.
“Simply put, no new education funding plan will work without new and additional revenue,” read part of a reaction statement from the Nevada State Education Association. “This plan simply moves money from one area of Nevada to another, creating new winners and losers.”
The statewide union’s sentiment echoes fears expressed to the Current months ago by several prominent education advocacy groups: that revising the funding formula without the allocation of additional revenue will only create infighting between school districts and education groups. Urban and rural districts are the likeliest rivals to emerge. As the policy director for the education advocacy group HOPE for Nevada put it back then, “We cannot just redivide the pie. We need to rewrite the formula and increase funding. It can’t be one or the other.”
But SB 543 is the former without the latter.
The bill seeks to replace the existing funding formula (known as the Nevada Plan) with what it calls the Pupil-Centered Funding Plan. In addition to base per-pupil funding, the new plan would provide money to students who are low income, English language learners, or on individualized education plans. There is also a provision allowing for so-called “equity adjustments” at “necessarily small schools.”
The dollar amounts for base per-pupil funding, additional weighted dollars, or equity adjustments would not be set in statute. Those would be decided by a newly created public body, called the Commission on School Funding.
That 11-member commission would consist of: a chair selected by the governor, four members appointed by the majority party leadership, two members appointed by the minority party leadership, two chief financial officers of school districts with less than 40,000 students, and two chief financial officers of school districts with more than 40,000 students. (Note: Only Clark and Washoe County school districts have more than 40,000 students enrolled.) Appointees cannot be legislators and must have relevant experience “in public education” and “in fiscal policy, school finance or similar or related financial activities.”
The Commission is also tasked with recommending ways to fully fund whatever recommendations they make to the Legislature.
While the proposed funding formula bill does not include specific dollar amounts, its creators believe the bill does address key funding issues, including the criticism that in the Nevada Plan local funding supplants state funding rather than supplements it. Similarly, there is widespread criticism among education advocates and the general public that the Legislature has a habit of diverting money intended to go toward education for other purposes (see: 2009 room tax increase, 2016 legalization of marijuana).
As reported in the Reno Gazette Journal, consultant Jeremy Aguero, who helped draft and present the bill, called ending the ending of supplantation “a very important step toward having a conversation about education adequacy.”
Fund Our Future Nevada applauded the budget safeguards, as well as the concept of having weighted funding follow students based on their need, but gently criticized the bill for doing nothing to bring the state closer to the recommended “adequate base funding” of $9,238 per pupil.
Current funding is $5,897 per pupil. Gov. Steve Sisolak’s budget calls for raising per-pupil funding to $6,052 next year and $6,116 the following year.
Additional funding is currently available through programs like Zoom and Victory schools, but the money goes toward schools with high enough percentages of specific student populations overall, rather than following individual students to whatever school they attend.
“The new formula does not include increased funding for education or set up a plan or commitment to increase funding in the future, which means it will not improve class sizes, lack of resources and academic achievement,” read a Fund Our Future Nevada statement in response to the legislation. “The new formula would still not account for the actual costs of educating Nevada students.”
The group is calling for legislators to set a target date for reaching adequate funding levels.
Notably silent after the funding formula bill’s introduction was the Clark County Education Association, which one day prior announced its members had voted to authorize a strike for next school year. The call for a strike is dependent on whether the Clark County School District is funded enough by the Nevada Legislature to honor promised educator salary increases and provide adequate classroom resources. The school district has said it does not currently have the money to fund scheduled salary increases and that additional budget cuts might also be necessary next school year.
The funding formula bill includes changes that appear to align with priorities previously identified by the teacher’s union — including that shift toward a “weighted funding formula.” However, those funding changes would not go into effect until 2021. The bill also does not address educator or staff salaries, and language within the bill states that weighted funding cannot be used for collective bargaining purposes.
On their end, CCSD expressed strong support for the proposed bill.
“This proposal lays the groundwork for us to work together as a state to transform education and distribute any new funding for education in a more equitable, more transparent manner,” Superintendent Jesus Jara said in a statement.