School Funding

Praise for the K12 budget is matched only by confusion about what it does


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Some education advocates believe the $ 500 million that made headlines and public applause last week is simply a restoration of the cuts. (A 2019 education fundraising rally at Liberty High School in Las Vegas. Photo by April Corbin Girnus)

Education advocates suspect another bait and switch.

Education Budget Bill K-12, Senate Bill 458 passed unanimously in both houses of the Nevada state legislature on Wednesday and is now headed to Gov. Steve Sisolak for signing. He was acclaimed as “historic” by lawmakers, but questions persist among education advocates who say available state data does not match.

When Budget Bill K12 was passed by a joint budget committee last week, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) called for a comparison of apples to apples per student of new and old. budgets. He indicated that he thought the support per student was much higher. Legislative staff at that meeting responded that they expected the comparison to be included in the final budget bill.

But when the budget bill was released on Monday, the apparent comparison was not encouraging for education advocates.

At the center of their concerns are the amounts of “total public support” listed in SB458 versus those listed in the Education Budget Bill passed in the 2019 Legislative Assembly (SB555). According to the 2019 finance bill, the total public support per student approved by lawmakers was $ 10,227 for the 2019-2020 school year and $ 10,319 for the 2020-2021 school year.

Total public support per student listed in SB458 is $ 10,204 for the next school year 2021-2022. This represents a decrease of $ 115 per student from the previous year. Total public support per student is set at $ 10,290 for the 2022-2023 school year, $ 29 less than current funding levels.

But all this is only true if the numbers are comparable.

The printed definitions of “full public support” are identical in the language of the two bills, but Senator Mo Denis, who has championed the overhaul of the decades-old funding formula, said the figures are not really comparable because the 2019 calculation included the closing balances of local schools, unlike the 2021 calculation. This exclusion is due to the shift from an expenditure model to a revenue model, he said. added.

Any confusion between the numbers in the 2019 bill compared to its 2021 counterpart only proves the need to revamp the funding formula in Denis’ mind. The revamped funding formula, known as the student-centered funding formula, has been described as more transparent than its outdated predecessor, the Nevada Plan, which included dozens of different pots of money flowing in different directions. The student-centered funding formula has been described as a cascade, with all money being placed at the top and flowing back down to school districts and schools based on individual student needs.

“In the future, we will be able to compare,” added Denis.

He added that while a direct comparison is not currently available, there is no doubt in his mind about the end result: “It’s definitely more.”

Lawmakers in ground statements before unanimous votes to approve the budget echoed this speech. Senator Marilyn Dondero Loop, Democratic State, said the budget bill “puts our money where we are” and referred to “an additional $ 500 million to base spending per student.”

But education advocates are not convinced. They now believe that the aforementioned $ 500 million, which made headlines and public applause last week, is simply a restoration of the cuts.

“We had been told inconsistent reasons on what might explain the apparent reduction, but no hard numbers per student for an apple-to-apple comparison were ever made available,” said Amanda Morgan, CEO of Educate Nevada Now , in a published press release. Thursday. “In fact, we were told that even with the funds not counted, there may still be no increase per student at the end of it.

Education advocates have seen state baits and switches before, perhaps the most infamous example being “marijuana money.” The new revenue from the legalization of marijuana should be a boon to the K12 system, but in the budget the newly dedicated revenue was offset by an equal size reduction in the general state fund dollars. This problem, known as bumping, is supposed to be corrected by the new funding formula.

The Nevada State Education Association has raised concerns about the student-centered funding formula since it was first proposed.

“The transition has been a lot harder to follow,” said Chris Daly of NSEA. The new funding formula “is significantly less transparent” than the old one, he said.

The idea that a direct comparison is not available does not suit him.

“At one point it’s about sending a certain dollar amount to schools,” he said, “so how much is that? How? It’s more or less. “

The Nevada Commission on School Funding is the designated body that has been tasked with developing the specific details of the student-centered funding formula. Many of its recommendations, but not all, were adopted by lawmakers this session during the transition.

President Karlene McCormick-Lee said she was “absolutely delighted” with the actions taken by lawmakers during this session. She said she believes lawmakers have had extensive discussions about funding K-12 education and how they can support the new funding formula.

“It is obvious that they have really mobilized,” she said. “It’s a lot more support than what we thought we had six months ago.”

That said, McCormick-Lee admitted that the full picture was not yet clear. Things will be clearer, she added, once the Nevada Department of Education takes all the legislative steps and turns them into individual budgets given to school districts and charter schools.

“I’m the type to keep that excitement until we see what it looks like,” she added.

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