Nevada’s classrooms need more dollars, teachers, lawmakers told

Nevada Legislature

Nevada Legislature

Reno’s Galena High School special education teacher Justin Jervinis required 1-to-1 assistance and wasn’t supposed to be able to learn, socialize or complete a master’s degree when he was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder.

Now he helps other special education students, is happily married, has children of his own and works to keep his students from hurting themselves and others.

But he worries Nevada’s educational system is on “the brink of peril” without a greater investment in its teachers, he testified Wednesday.

“I want to emphasize how important it is for you all to help public school educators of all roles due to the lack of investment in our educational system,” he said.

Nevada’s Assembly Committee on Ways and Means and Senate Committee on Finance’s joint subcommittees on K-12, higher education and capital improvement projects held the Legislature’s first school budget hearing Wednesday, discussing the Pupil Centered Funding Plan.

Union representatives and educators sought additional support as Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert defined what it means to ensure equity versus equality for student population groups.

The Nevada State Educators Association, through it’s “Time for 20” campaign, is seeking a 20% pay increase for teachers and a minimum of $20 per hour for classified workers. According to the Commission on School Funding, it would cost the state about $650 million.

NSEA President Dawn Etcheverry summarized Gov. Joe Lombardo’s recommendations with a $2 billion budget in new funding appropriated to education and representing a $2,000 investment per pupil outlined in his State of the State address on Jan. 23. Etcheverry said despite the promise to increase the dollar amounts for classrooms, this does nothing to solve educator vacancies schools statewide are experiencing.

“NSEA has been calling on Nevada’s elected leaders,” she said. “We have pointed to significant resources available.”

Lawmakers received the latest information on educator shortages, discussed impacts on special education and at-risk groups and heard teachers’ concerns about improving the state’s educational needs through Nevada’s funding formula.

The Pupil Centered Funding Plan, a revenue-driven model, combines Nevada’s various funding sources – including the local school support tax, government services tax, general fund appropriation, marijuana taxes, property tax, room tax and other income – and breaks the pool into four tiers: school operations, local special education, per-pupil base funding and weighted funding.

State Deputy Superintendent of Business and Support Services Megan Peterson, who provided a brief overview of the tiers, said the estimated per-pupil amount for fiscal year 2024 is $8,613, an amount expected to increase to $9,039 for fiscal year 2025. Figures are multiplied by projected enrollments per district, which in total comes out to $4.3 billion for 2025.

In Carson City, with its expected enrollment of 7,309, for example, total statewide base funding would be approximately $66,067,349.

Clark County, with 301,806 students, would receive the largest portion, approximately $2.7 billion, and Washoe County, with 61,450 students, would get about $555 million.

Legislators asked about enrollment trends, causes leading families to consider alternatives to public education and options for teachers in rural communities struggling for funding against the state’s more populous districts.

Sen. Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, asked how districts define their performance metrics and expressed her problems with the “dollar serving the child.”

Ebert had previously stated any increases in funding should result in a “different classroom” going from $1,600 per pupil to $4,300 per student if the proposed budget is approved.

“We say we drive dollars to the classroom, but we don’t examine what the performance is in the classroom for those students,” Neal said. “We say, ‘Hey, this is for the classroom, this is for ELL (English Language Learners), but we already know that work is not happening. … We’ve used the tagline, ‘The dollar follows the child,’ but that doesn’t mean, ‘Serve the child,’ and that is the issue and that is the problem.

“So you can be at-risk in Black, you can be at-risk in Hawaiian, and that child is not being served at the same equal level,” Neal said.

During public comment, teachers argued their children who had studied to become teachers were ready to leave the state, seek employment elsewhere or discussed their current situation in their classrooms.

Emilee Riggin, a Carson High School English teacher, said her classes are crowded and struggle with basic literacy skills, while CHS drama and English teacher Darby Beckwith shared how she was raised to value education by parents who taught themselves.

“I have seen firsthand how teaching can be an incredibly rewarding career path,” Beckwith said. “Unfortunately, it no longer seems to be a sustainable one. Nevada schools are in a crisis. … Our students need to know they deserve more than they are currently being provided for.”

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