The Senate Finance Committee on Monday approved the bill making dramatic changes to the historic Nevada Plan that funds K-12 education in the state.
SB508 sets up a system in which children with different needs get different levels of state per-pupil funding.
It’s intended to make major changes to the Nevada Plan, originally funded by the 1967 Legislature, and uses a formula that adjusts for local wealth to set per-pupil funding.
The new plan would provide double or more in state funding for students with disabilities or other issues that require more teacher time and resources. Those would range from autistic students to the mentally challenged and even English Language Learners.
Superintendent of Education Dale Erquiaga told lawmakers in April the existing plan may have worked when Nevada was 90 percent or more white and stay-at-home moms were common. He said now, some 55 percent statewide are eligible for free or reduced lunch and the state is just 36 percent white.
He said the goal of the proposed changes is to focus funding and attention on the areas responsible for the state’s low student performance. Erquiaga said all those students are now taught in mainstream classes but the current model funds them in “special education units.” He said it still costs about double to teach a special education student.
The committee on Monday amended SB508 to make those funding weights more flexible at this point. Chairman Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said the idea is to study the individual programs from ELL to Gifted and Talented to those aimed at the poor and see exactly what it takes to educate those students.
The goal, lawmakers said, is to figure out exactly what it takes to educate a student with special needs.
“We want to see what the results are before we lock it down,” he said.
But Joyce Haldeman representing the Clark County School District said she believes those “weights” have been pretty extensively looked at during the interim by educators and others who put in numerous hours reviewing the needs of various groups of students.
The amendment, they said, allows the department of education to plan and come up with a way to implement the provisions without causing problems to the state’s fiscal system.
Kieckhefer said the interim year or so would “use the data to make sure we get it right.”
In addition, the finance committee voted to recommend passage of SB133, designed to help teachers cover some of the costs of purchases they put into their own classrooms.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said the bill would reimburse those teachers for the cost of classroom materials they buy up to $250 per teacher per school year.
It contains $2.5 million a year to pay those costs.
He said the data collected from the program would also, for the first time, give school districts a “measure of the scope of the problem.”
He said then the districts and state would actually have a handle on how much the average teacher has to spend each year the district doesn’t provide.