End of session chore—rewrite 50-year-old funding system

End of session chore—rewrite 50-year-old funding system

(Nev.) With just days to go before the end of the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers in Nevada are grappling with a bill that would drastically restructure the funding system for public schools.

SB 543 was introduced less than three weeks ago by members of the Democratically-controlled Senate Finance Committee and has yet to be scheduled for a vote. But supporters say, despite the time crunch, the state’s school funding formula—called the Nevada State Plan—is overly complex and decades behind current student needs.

“The Nevada State Plan was created in 1967 when I myself was a first-grader,” said Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas and president pro tem of the Senate. “When I first was elected to office, I ran on a platform to update out education funding formula—that was 14 years ago.

“Finally, now we have a chance to update our state’s outdated formula with a more modern, student-centered model,” he said in a statement.

With a total enrollment of less than 500,000 served in 722 schools, the public education system in Nevada still struggles. Last year, barely 80 percent of its high school seniors graduated—well short of the 85 percent national average.

Meanwhile, barely half of elementary students achieved proficiency in reading and fewer than 44 percent scored at grade level in math. The numbers for middle school students are even worse.

Nevada schools have consistently ranked among the lowest of all states nationally.

Educators say the Legislature does not adequately fund the schools, although so far, teacher groups are not opposing the proposed formula revision.

In 2020, schools are expected to receive just about $5 billion from all sources.

SB 543 does not address how much money schools will get—instead, it would alter how the money is distributed.

Currently, there are more than 80 different funding programs that pay for a long list of education services, according to a staff analysis.

The new system would eliminate virtually all of the categorical programs and collect all of the money into a single pool. Supporters say this move will ensure better transparency and accountability on district managers.

The bill would also direct more state support to help the students with the biggest needs. Schools with high percentages of English learners or low-income students would get more money.

The new formula would also take into account the vast differences in costs related to where a school is located, particularly between urban and rural areas.

It is unclear how Democrats intend to bring the bill forward, although they control both houses of the Legislature. It is also unclear where Gov. Steve Sisolak—also a Democrat—stands on the proposal.

Republicans have yet to take a position, although several key members of the GOP caucuses have expressed concern that the bill was introduced so far in the session.

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