By Michelle Rindels

The Nevada Independent

After lengthy speeches underscoring the gravity of their action, Nevada senators passed a bill Wednesday overhauling the state’s 52-year-old education funding formula.

Senators voted 18-3 to approve SB543, with rural Republican lawmakers opposing it. The bill would streamline the funding system by putting 80 different streams of school revenue into a single pot so it’s easier to see where the money goes, implement a system of weighted funding and require education funding grow each year by at least the level of inflation unless there’s an economic downturn.

“This is why we do what we do,” said Democratic bill sponsor Mo Denis, who has been working on the project for years and choked up several times during his floor speech. “This is one of those things that’s going to change people’s lives for generations.”

Several Republicans spoke in favor of the measure, including Ben Kieckhefer, who called the measure “the next logical step” in closing the achievement gap and addressing other education shortfalls.

While there are still many unknowns in how the transition will unfold, “I choose today to have faith in future legislatures to make those good decisions,” he said.

Rural senators raised concerns about “hold harmless” provisions that will prevent rural districts from dropping below current funding levels during the transition to the new formula, which generally boosts urban district funding. But it also won’t allow for funding growth for several years, and critics have dubbed it a “freeze and squeeze” for rural districts.

“If we get a decline in mining, you’ll find that this bill isn’t as good as you thought it was,” said Republican Sen. Pete Goicoechea, who represents a rural district.

But Democratic lawmakers lauded the bill, conceding that it doesn’t include new education funding but asserting it is a major step forward.

“The structure … ensures the money goes where it needs to go. And without that structure, then it is immaterial how much money we would ever put to education,” said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro. “Because if we can’t ensure that it’s going to make a difference, if we can’t ensure that it’s going to create fairness, if we can’t ensure that it’s … going to create opportunity, then we’re just spinning our wheels.”

The bill now heads to the Assembly with six days left in the session.

This article was reprinted with permission by The Nevada Independent. Visit them online at thenevadaindependent.com.