While the Legislature celebrated what they called “the largest education budget in history” that increase did not trickle down to most school districts, according to Educate Nevada Now (ENN), which advocates for school finance reform.
According to the group’s analysis of available data for the 2019-20 school year, 11 out of 15 school districts saw a decline in their overall funding. While 13 school districts saw a decline in state revenue, all except one — Elko County — saw an increase in local revenue.
The disparity in funding was either because funding for the general budget was lower, or because a large portion of funds were provided as categorical or grant programs which are largely restricted, meaning they can not be used by school districts to pay for operational costs such as raises, maintenance, technology or books, according to the group.
Due to these restrictions the group argued that funding can “increase” but may still require districts to make cuts. For example, restricted-use state dollars per pupil increased by 32 percent from the last biennium while state dollars for general expenditures decreased by 6 percent. On average across the districts there was a decrease in total state funding per student of 6.8 percent but an increase in local funding of about 4.6 percent per student.
“The seesaw between the two funding sources is likely why we don’t necessarily see growth in education funding mirroring the strong economic growth in the state,” reads the report.
During the last Legislature, lawmakers passed a bill to move toward replacing the existing funding formula (known as the Nevada Plan) with a Pupil-Centered Funding Plan. In addition to base per-pupil funding, the new plan moves toward “weighted funding” so as 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.”
Still, the schools that saw the most decreases in per pupil state funding were in rural school districts. Lander County saw the largest decrease in state per pupil funding of about — 45 percent. The school district with the second largest decrease in state funding was Nye County at 19 percent.
The Clark County School District, which includes the Las Vegas metro area, saw the largest per-pupil increases in funding at 15 percent, thought the district still had to make $17 million in cuts to fully fund compensation packages for employees.
The group also tracked teacher raises — an issue that prompted Clark County teachers to threaten a strike if not fulfilled. According to Educate Nevada Now, not all teachers have received the promised raise, while other districts gave their teachers a raise at a steep cost to their school districts. In total six school districts were not able to deliver a 3 percent raise, while two school districts provided a 2 percent and 2.5 percent raise.
Retail and wholesale marijuana tax dollars were diverted to K-12 education, but the increase in revenue has not kept up with inflation, and is a small drop in much needed additional revenue, according to the ENN analysis.
“Although legislators made efforts to increase K-12 funds, so much was earmarked to restricted funds or delegated to teacher raises that critical needs such as reducing class sizes, purchasing new textbooks or school equipment were not addressed and will continue to hurt students and school staff. Of course, all expenses are important but limited funds always moves the state closer to what’s called a ‘weighted funding formula’ that distributes money based off specific student needs. Something needs to be sacrificed which is not fair to students or educators and school staff,” reads the report.
Note: This story was updated to clarify funding formula legislation passed earlier this year.