Nevada lawmakers question impact of new school funding plan

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Lawmakers were told Friday the governor’s recommended budget for public schools restores many of the emergency reductions made during the August special legislative session.

That includes $69.9 million for the New Nevada Education Funding and $31.4 million for Read by Three.

But, to do that, Superintendent of Education Jhone Ebert and her finance deputy Heidi Haartz said other things had to be cut to fit within the available funding.

The largest hit was the $77.9 million cut to the class size reduction program. That effectively cuts class size funding that reduces the number of students in grades 1-3 classrooms in half for the coming biennium.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, questioned whether districts would be able to meet class size requirements. He was told there is the opportunity to apply for waivers as many counties have had to do in recent years.

“Once those restorations were made, reductions were necessary,” said Haartz

One factor in balancing the K-12 budget was the fact that 2021 enrollment numbers are expected to be down by 14,367 pupils. Ebert said that has to do with the fact kindergarten isn’t mandatory in Nevada and the fact some parents have chosen to keep their children out of public school because of the pandemic. Average daily enrollment for the state is 474,385.

The proposed budget anticipates a phase-in of the new school funding formula. Despite being told by Sen. Mo Denis, who helped develop it, that the new formula under development is much simpler than the longstanding Nevada Plan, lawmakers made it clear on Friday they need many more questions answered before they’ll be convinced.

The new Pupil Centered Funding Plan (PCFP) will replace the more than 50-year-old Nevada plan and focus funding on the needs of public school students. It provides a system of weighted funding for students who need more attention than others including English Language Learners, students who are “at-risk” and the gifted and talented.

There were a number of questions about whether the current funding level would support the new funding plan and about the actual total per pupil. Ebert said total state, local and federal funding is about $9,000 per student.

Lawmakers were told a total of $477.3 million is coming by 2022 with 90 percent of those funds going directly to the districts. K-12 has already received more than $117 million in education relief.

Because it dramatically changes how funding is distributed among Nevada’s 17 county school districts, lawmakers expressed concern that some districts might not get the money they need to serve students.

Ebert told members of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees the plan includes Hold Harmless provisions that will guarantee every district receives at least what it got in 2020. The Hold Harmless list includes 11 of Nevada’s 17 county districts. And since it’s based on projected enrollment by district, an unexpected increase in the number of pupils wouldn’t be covered.

Ways and Means Chair Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, questioned whether the new funding formula would provide badly needed mental health services to pupils and their families.

Ebert said Nevada is, “ahead of the curve” there and making sure those services are not allowed to fall behind.

The new plan is also intended to give individual districts more flexibility in using the state funding they get. It rolls so-called categorical funding for Zoom and Victory and Read by Three and other special programs into the formula distribution plan, providing districts the ability to move money around to where that special district believes is best.

One thing that goes away in the new plan is the requirement that the state make up any shortfall in local school revenues from the sales and property taxes. This year, the state has to make up $331 million to cover that shortfall. Any shortfall would, instead, be paid for by an Education Stabilization Account made up with excess district ending fund balance cash and unexpended money in the State Education Fund at the end of the fiscal year. The education account would be funded by the same revenues that are now allocated by the Distributive School Account. Excess education funding would no longer be reverted to the General Fund.


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