Education topics will tug hard on Nevada purse strings when Legislature convenes

Combine educational issues with Nevada’s upcoming legislative session and you’ve got a scene straight from the movie “Jerry Maguire”: Show me the money.

When legislators convene in February, they’ll have a number of topics tugging at the state’s purse strings.

First, they’ve got to get an estimated $400 million deficit squared away.

After that, they’ll have to address what the Clark County School District has desperately sought — a weighted student funding formula.

The formula would assign more money to students who are in special education, in poverty, gifted and talented, or English language learners. With the exception of special education, how much a student in all those categories would cost has yet to be worked out.

The Legislature passed a law in 2015, SB 508, which requires the formula to be fully implemented by fiscal year 2021.

But with a mandated reorganization that requires individual schools to craft budgets based on various per-pupil amounts by next year, the school district needs it now. Or really, yesterday.

“I think many of my colleagues do understand the importance of fixing the weighted student funding formula,” said state Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, the Senate’s new majority leader.

Other groups, including the Clark County Educators Association and Nevadans for the Common Good, are pushing for the formula as well.

“The Legislature just found $750 million to spend on a football stadium,” said Robert Hoo, lead organizer for Nevadans for the Common Good. “We have full confidence that they’re going to do the right thing and find a similar amount of money for our kids.”

Say our legislators check that funding off the list. What next?

How about the controversial Education Savings Account program, which some Republicans are hoping to resurrect.

That could cost over $40 million, depending on the amount per child and number of people who sign up for an account.

Then there’s the teachers union, which will lobby for a “dedicated revenue stream” for a new compensation model aligned to the state’s mandated educator growth plans. The pay schedule is different from the previous one, which awarded salary increases based on various levels of academic achievement. The union’s new contract, awarded after a hard-fought battle, adopts the growth plan model.

But the union wants to make sure there’s money to continue funding it in the future, although it claims the weighted student formula is still its top priority.

“If we’re asking educators to make an investment to improve their practice to have ongoing continuous professional development, then that money should be set aside upon their completion,” said CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita.

He says the request isn’t for additional funding, just an earmark within the state Distributive School Account reserved for this new model. But that could mean less money the district would be at liberty to use.

What’s actually new in this great big challenge? Nothing — the fight remains the same.

Until somebody shows us the money.

On Education appears every other Saturday.Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at 702-383-4630 or apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.