Why the K-12 education funding bill created questions and confusion

What are the fruits of Nevada lawmakers’ efforts to fund K-12 education this year?

Well, it’s hard to say because they don’t mean fruit at all. They say the two funding formulas – Nevada’s old plan and the new student-centric funding plan – don’t lend themselves to an apple-to-apple comparison.

State lawmakers last week congratulated themselves on adding about $ 500 million to the education budget. MP Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas), who warned there would be naysayers and skeptics, said she “has been waiting a very long time to invest this money in education.”

The dust from the party had barely settled when questions began to emerge. When the important education finance bill K-12 (SB458) was scrapped earlier this week, education observers noticed one particular aspect in the very first section: full public support for the next fiscal year. biennium will be estimated at $ 10,204 per student in the first fiscal year, followed by $ 10,290 per student in the next fiscal year. Both of these figures are lower than the total amount of public assistance allocated in the current biennium – $ 10,227 per student for the 2019-2020 fiscal year and $ 10,319 for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

The apparent decrease clouded the water for several days with little clue clarifying the situation. But, late Thursday afternoon, Senator Mo Denis (D-Las Vegas) said he had received information from the Office of Legislative Counsel indicating that closing fund balances were the culprit. In 2019, as part of the Nevada plan, school district and charter school end-of-fund balances were calculated in the per-student estimate of total government support, Denis said. Going forward with the student-focused fundraising plan, closing fund balances are not calculated in total government support.

That’s a math gap that comes at a high price: For the current biennium, closing fund balances totaling $ 283.5 million have been included in total government support each year, Denis said.

So, despite similar language describing full public support in SB458 and SB555, the K-12 Funding Bill passed in the 2019 session, the two are not mirror images of each other. It’s unclear exactly what the combined closing fund balances would have totaled this year, but that likely would have been enough to significantly support the per-pupil estimates for total government support.

“This is the highest amount we have ever put in for schools,” Denis said.

Still, part of the additional $ 500 million was used to make up for education budget cuts linked to the pandemic, making it more focused on restoration than just an injection of cash. Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) presented it as progress during a difficult time.

“The tape was dark,” he said, referring to the pandemic shutdown of the state’s main economic engine. “It is impossible to suggest that we will not have to make difficult decisions. I think, quite frankly, it’s amazing that we’re even close to pre-pandemic spending. And so this is a good signal to move forward.

The shift to the student-focused fundraising plan has also brought about dramatic changes in many categorical fundraising programs – such as Class Size Downsizing, Read by Grade 3 and Zoom and Victory Schools – which are drawn into the larger student fundraising pot. This is another difficulty in measuring the 2019 Legislative Assembly education appropriations with those currently occurring in Carson City.

In theory, it will be easier to track progress – after this first biennium of complete transition from the old funding model to the new one. Then it’s time to point out the appropriate fruit comparisons, or at least that’s how lawmakers envision the process.

As it stands, Carlton said comparisons between the next biennium and the previous one are “like grape to watermelon”.

State Superintendent Jhone Ebert cited the Commission on School Funding as evidence of the complexity of moving away from one funding model and implementing a new one. The advisory body met 22 times during the interim and made a series of recommendations on how to make the transition. However, there is no passage, so to speak, between the two models.

“It’s natural to ask for a crosswalk – how are you doing from where you are and where are you going?” she said. “The point is, that’s not how it was developed.”

But the mere perception of declining funding has bothered education advocates. The Nevada State Education Association, which has regularly questioned switching to the new funding formula without a significant increase in revenue, openly criticized the K-12 budget proposal on social media and in legislative hearings.

The NSEA has raised concerns about the so-called weightings – additional funds to support certain groups of students – put in place in SB458. The weights – 0.24 for English learners, 0.03 for at-risk students, and 0.12 for gifted and talented students – will serve as a multiplier for base funding per student statewide. The result appears to be about $ 1,648 more for English learners, $ 209 for at-risk students, and $ 837 for gifted and talented students.

NSEA leaders called the weight-at-risk “anemic” and unable to meet the costs of services to support low-income students.

Educate Nevada Now, an equity-focused organization, released a statement Thursday lamenting the lack of financial clarity surrounding SB458 when it was passed unanimously by a joint subcommittee last week.

“We are glad that lawmakers were able to restore these funds, especially after these tough economic challenges, but we need to be clear on what these dollars mean and manage people’s expectations,” wrote Amanda Morgan, executive director of ENN. , in a press release. “It helps us get closer to where we were in 2019, but it doesn’t mean that students will see smaller class sizes or that schools will see more resources or support.”

Lawmakers, however, say schools will see more resources thanks to the massive wave of federal coronavirus relief funds. The three rounds of federal funding are expected to bring in about $ 1.5 billion to Nevada school districts. The Clark County School District alone expects to receive more than $ 777 million under the American Rescue Plan Act, which is the third round of federal funding.

School districts are making plans on how to use federal funds, especially to alleviate school problems created by the pandemic. The caveat, of course, is that the federal windfall is not recurring. Funds must be used within specific time frames.

“I would rely on the educational experience for our children,” Ebert said, referring to the effect of federal funding.

Another unknown five days before the legislative session is whether lawmakers will pass measures increasing mining taxes. If that happens, Denis said the money could be directed to the student-centered fundraising plan.

Frierson expressed optimism on the move on the mining front on Wednesday, but did not disclose details. Republicans, who will be key to securing a deal, said they had not seen concrete language on what a compromise tax deal with mining would look like and could not commit until they didn’t, but they heard it was in the range of $ 70 to $ 80 million a year.

“I expect a policy will be adopted regarding mining revenues, whether it is a resolution on the ballot or an agreement,” said Frierson The Independent of Nevada. “I plan to do something.”

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