Forum in Carson City tackles education finances

Sierra Nevada Forum panelists tackled education finance in the Silver State Wednesday with talk of regressive features moving in a more progressive direction by 2022.

Audience members at the Brewery Arts Center Performance Hall also heard about accomplishments stemming from the Carson City School District’s $10 million Race To The Top grant, but three of the four panelists spoke on state funding.

Amanda Morgan, an attorney with the Education Law Center of New Jersey, spoke of the center work in Nevada on school finance, whether money or reforms make a bigger difference, and set the tone by saying the Silver State formula is regressive.

“We are both regressive and low in funding,” she said of Nevada. As to the issue of whether and how much funding matters vis a vis reforms, she cited studies on both sides but also acknowledged her bias is money matters.

She said, however, that’s not the whole picture.

“So in short,” she said, “money matters but it matters how it’s spent.”

Morgan indicated outcomes are important and investing in those at risk due to poverty, English language learners and the like help enhance sound outcomes.

For example, she said, boosting per pupil spending 10 percent in proper ways increases graduation by 7 percent.

Jeff Zander, Elko County School District superintendent and a longtime school finance official, and Steve Canavero, interim superintendent of public instruction with the Nevada Department of Education, took it from there.

Both acknowledged past regressive features of the state school funding formula that bolsters local financial support in districts, and both indicated state government is moving in a new direction.

Zander, who attempted to explain the formula, or Nevada Plan, said it had been around nearly a half century with some modifications. “The actual formula hasn’t changed much since 1967,” he said.

However, he said, Senate Bill 508 of the 2015 Legislature is moving the state school finance picture toward a weighted system that can target at risk and other students who need additional help to move toward better outcomes.

Canavero took it from there, saying SB 508 is aimed at “modernizing the Nevada Plan road map” via a phased approach.

“We’re moving toward the weighted (funding) formula” with the goal helping the disabled, the at risk student population, the English language learners, as well as the gifted and talented in public schools, Canavero said.

He said if it’s done correctly, outcomes should improve. He said the phased approach will build finance multipliers into the system to help through weighting and be done by the 2021-22 academic year.

Richard Stokes, Carson City’s school superintendent, was the final panelist to speak and provided both a district overview and news in the third year of the four-year federal Race To The Top grant.

He said Carson City has 7,500 students attending a dozen schools, including significant numbers in some categories mentioned by his predecessors.

The $10 million grant mainly focused on the high school level, which followed a School Improvement Grant that had helped in middle schools a few years ago, with both providing key data and sparking improvements.

He said, for example, the combined grants and opportunities they presented helped keep students on track toward graduation.

“You can see over time we have made remarkable strides,” he said, showing statistics during his presentation. He mentioned various things, but seemed particularly focused on curriculum and assessments, as well as mobile devices.

On providing a 1:1 mobile devices ratio, he made this point: “This is the world our children live in.”


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