By Ryan Tarinelli
CARSON CITY — Nevada lawmakers say they plan to revamp the state’s 52-year-old education funding formula by giving additional funds to students who need extra support, such as children who are learning English or qualify for free or reduced meals.
A bill has yet to be introduced and the specifics remain unknown, but legislators say the upcoming measure will change the funding model by increasing money to certain students, including those who are in special education.
Democratic Sen. Mo Denis said the state’s dated funding formula has only received tweaks since its creation.
“(The system) was designed at a time that was much different in Nevada,” he said. “The student population was much different, the demographics were different, the need was different. Kids were mostly homogenous at that point.”
Some lawmakers who support updating the formula have pointed to a report last year recommending higher funding levels for certain students.
Democrats, who have firm control over both chambers in the Legislature, have made updating the funding formula a priority.
The legislative proposal is expected to change how the state allocates education funds, but not the amount of funds itself, Denis said. He likened it to a pie, saying the funding formula decides how the pie is cut but not its size.
Clark County School District, one of the largest school districts in the country, backs the effort to overhaul the funding system.
Jesus Jara, the district’s superintendent, says the state expects educators to perform at a high standard, but does not give them the resources for success.
“Principals right now are struggling to make tough decisions — do I keep a teacher or do I fund more instructional material so my teachers and my kids can learn?” he said, noting that Clark County students have been consistently underfunded. “I mean right now, you know, we haven’t purchased instructional materials in a decade.”
Across the U.S., large urban school districts that improve have a standard curriculum and assessment system, something that Clark County is not doing, he said.
He said the weighted models will further the district’s goal of decreasing student proficiency gaps in math, science and language arts.
“We’re educating children with 1967 mentality,” he said, referencing the year the state’s funding formula was created.
Republican Sen. Keith Pickard said he’s supportive of the conclusion of the school finance study. But, he said the upcoming bill and its specifics have not been released yet, something that has bred suspicion over what will come out.
“We’re mushrooms— we’re working in the dark,” he said.
Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, a Democrat, did not give a specific timeline on when the legislation might be filed.