ANALYSIS: Class-size reduction plan flawed | NevadaAppeal.com
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ANALYSIS: Class-size reduction plan flawed

Of the changes to public education funding proposed by Gov. Jim Gibbons, eliminating class size reduction would have the largest immediate fiscal impact, according to the governor and his staff.

Gibbons issued a press release saying class size reduction has been funded for the past 20 years.

“If class size reduction is the answer for improving K-12 in Nevada, why haven’t student test scores improved dramatically in the last 20 years?” he asked.

Gibbons said eliminating the program would save $127 million in fiscal 2011. However, there are problems with that claim.

First, the Legislative Appropriations Report says the budget for class size reduction is $145 million for 2011, not $127 million. Eliminating the program won’t save the full $127 million. It would delete the money that pays teachers in those first-, second- and third-grade classes.

The students would be put into classes about twice as large as the 16-19 student classes permitted under class size reduction. The state would save because schools would need only half the number of teachers to teach them. But the cost of those teachers would have to be covered under the state’s regular per-pupil funding for public schools.

The maximum savings would be less than half the $127 million claimed in the press release.

The second problem involves federal rules under the stimulus program that prohibit states from reducing the percentage of total general fund money they put into education. That “maintenance of effort” requirement is designed to keep states from claiming large amounts of education stimulus money, then reducing education budgets and using the savings on other programs.

According to the Appropriations Report, cutting anything more than

$40 million out of the 2011 education budgets would violate that requirement, forcing the state to give the education stimulus money it has received back to the federal government.

That would include $394 million in education stimulus cash for K-12 and higher education plus a separate grant of $70 million for low-income schools and special education – a much bigger hit to the state than half of $127 million or, using the correct budget number for class size reduction, half of $145 million.