Churchill County School District trustees received more information last Wednesday on a new Nevada funding formula for the state’s public schools and how it could affect the rural counties when it’s implemented for the 2021-2022 school year.
Dusty Casey, chief financial officer and athletic director at Oasis Academy, is a representative on the 11-member Commission on School Funding that will oversee the development of Nevada’s new school funding formula passed in Senate Bill 543 and what recommendations it will present to make the funding fair for all Nevada counties. In essence, the new plan would control all K-12 education funding at the local level and put it in a single fund with the state money. Less than half the roughly $10,000 per student Nevada now spends is collected in the individual county school districts but is outside of state control. Those funds are generated primarily by property taxes and the Local School Support Tax.
The formula replaces the Nevada Plan that was implemented more than 52 years ago.
Casey said the committee has been identifying other funding outside of federal money. Since he was appointed to the committee in late August, Casey said the new bill is supposed to create more transparency and to see where each school district currently is with its funding. Over the past four months, Casey said he’s been visiting other school districts to learn more about their operations.
Certain provisions of the new bill will not change, Casey said. The first priority is to fund the Nevada Department of Education and the second priority will fund auxiliary services such as transportation and food services. After that, school districts receive per pupil-based funding. CCSD trustees received a presentation in September 2018 about the new plan. A study team recommended the new plan replace Nevada’s existing funding structure with a weighted student formula.
The formula funding, said Mark Fermanich of Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, would be cost-based determined by the resources needed to meet state standards and requirements; equitable, which proposes similar students, schools and districts receive the same funding and taxpayers should be treated equally; responsive to student needs through the use of adjustments based on students’ needs; responsive to district characteristics through adjustments in district size, comparative wage index to address cost of a living and a small-schools’ adjustment; and both transparent and flexible.
Casey said the committee studying the new plan is reviewing it for adequate levels of funding. At its first meeting in September, he said the committee began looking at the adjustments such as the weight factors for at-risk and students with needs. Also an issue is the safety net where districts would be held harmless for inadequate funding.
In October, Casey said the committee began to develop strategy, goals and tasks, and the NDE designated certain staff members to work with the committee. Two meetings in November resulted in a presentation given by analysists and information between the current Nevada Plan and the new funding model. Last month, the committee met to discuss the formula and adjustments.
Now, the intense work begins. Casey said the committee will look at the budgeting process and then how fiscal year 2020 funding and the new model differ.
“Our biggest concerns is will our recommendations be heard,” he said.
Casey said all nonfederal money will be dumped into one pie and then distributed to the 17 school districts and charter schools. Questions will center on how funding affects school operations and what impact will each district encounter.
“For rurals, there are a lot of concerns,” he said, adding will. This new formula be a funding shift from the smaller counties to Clark County.
Looking at what the new formula could do, Casey said the rural school districts would receive less money that what they are currently receiving. Furthermore, he said legislators need to realize that the rural counties are all different and have different economies. He said lumping the counties together is not ideal for funding.
Casey said the new funding formula treats Charter Schools differently, and for some, it could be their death knell because they would not receive enough money to operate. At earlier presentations during the 2018-2019 school, trustees learned how rural counties would fare between the Nevada Plan and the n formula. Counties such as Churchill and Mineral would see little change because of the enormous amount of federal funding. The Department of Defense pours millions of dollars into the two counties because of Naval Air Station Fallon and the Hawthorne Army Depot.
Dr. David Jensen told a committee in a letter that “Humboldt County School District could not weather a $4 million reduction in one shot.”
Elko County figures it would lose $1,600 per student, and Douglas County estimates an $8 million hole in its budget in the 2021-2022 budget. Carson City would also see a huge reduction.
State Sen. James Settelmeyer, who represents Douglas and Churchill counties, said only two or three of the districts would see a funding increase in 2021 — primarily Clark and Washoe.
The introduction of SB 543 drew criticism when it was introduced late in the 2019 session.
“To introduce this massive overhaul of the funding formula on the 99th day of session is irresponsible and speaks to the poor process,” said Nevada State Education Association President Ruben Murillo in the Nevada Appeal.
“This plan simply moves money from one area of Nevada to another, creating new winners and losers,” Murillo said.
Settelmeyer agreed: “Fundamentally, we need to find more funds for Washoe County and Clark County.”