School funding favors rural areas
August 16, 2012
Nevada’s funding formula for public schools is antiquated and rewards sparsely populated rural areas at the expense of populated Clark County, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report presented to a legislative panel suggests money should be allocated based on the number of children living in poverty and those learning English as a second language.
The Las Vegas Sun reports those adjustments could mean a big increase in Clark County per-pupil funding.
It could also set the stage for a north-south money battle when the 2013 Legislature convenes.
Nevada is one of only two states – South Dakota is the other – that doesn’t account for English language learners, students in poverty or the gifted and talented, according to the report by American Institutes of Research.
Nevada also shortchanges districts when it comes to the cost of teaching special education students.
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The way Nevada funds education in each county has been a sore point, particularly for Southern Nevada, where many believe Clark County subsidizes the rest of the state.
On a per-student basis, Clark County consistently receives less state aid than other counties despite generating the most tax revenue. Last year, Clark County was awarded $5,068 per student. Esmeralda County received the most, $17,508 per pupil, the newspaper reported.
That’s largely because the state factors in local taxes and then adds money for counties that are sparsely populated and geographically remote.
“The current formula is an elegantly designed funding mechanism suitable for an essentially homogenous rural state,” the study said.
The state’s current formula, called the Nevada Plan, was passed in 1967 and has undergone some adjustments along the way. But Clark County has grown into the fifth-largest school district in the nation.
“We’ve always had a sense that the formula didn’t meet the true needs of our students,” said Joyce Haldeman, an associate superintendent at the Clark County School District. “This report seems to reaffirm that.”
Haldeman said the school district does not support making a sudden change in the formula that would punish rural school districts. Instead, it would support phasing in a new formula on increased funding going forward.
But calculations included in the report suggest significant changes. If the state began to account for free and reduced lunches, English language learners and other factors, Clark County would see a 6 percent increase in per-pupil funding.
Washoe County would see a 2 percent decrease, while Eureka County would see a 49 percent decrease. The other 14 rural counties also would see large decreases in per-student funding.
The report was accepted unanimously Tuesday by lawmakers on the committee, including two from Northern Nevada. Details of the recommendations will be discussed at an Aug. 28 meeting.
“At this point, any change that takes money away from Washoe schools would be something I could not support,” said Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, who served on the committee.
Brower said the conclusion was no surprise since Clark County pushed for the study and helped raise the money to fund it.