Lawmakers back more funding for poor students, English language learners

CARSON CITY – A panel of lawmakers and educators on Monday recommended that Nevada’s public education funding formula include more money for students in poverty or with limited English proficiency.

The minimum funding increase supported by the Task Force on K-12 Public Education Funding is 50 percent but could be set higher.

The 1.5 weighted ratio approved by the 15-member committee, which also included parents and financial experts, will now be turned into a bill for consideration by the 2015 Legislature.

If approved, Nevada’s per pupil funding formula would be altered to reflect the increase in support for these at-risk populations of students. The existing funding formula does not allocate additional support to educate these groups.

The Clark County School District is expected to be the biggest beneficiary from the proposed change to the state public education funding formula because of its higher populations of the weighted groups.

A majority of the panel also endorsed a recommendation to phase in the new funding to minimize any impacts to rural school districts, which otherwise could see their funding decline under the new formula if overall education spending does not increase.

The plan would be to hold districts harmless from any cuts in the first two years, followed by a four-year phase in of the new component of the formula.

Several members of the panel said that without increased overall funding for public education, the effort to properly educate at-risk and English language learners will fail.

“This cannot work if we don’t fund it,” said Bob Burnham, appointed to the panel by the Nevada Association of School Boards. “Nevada severely under-funds education. That’s a major reason we have many of the problems we do right now. If we ignore the need for that, we are trading one crisis for another one.”

Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said the work of the committee is predicated on an overall increase in funding for education in the next two-year budget.

“We’re not going to hurt one part of the state to benefit another part of the state,” he said. “That is not the intention. We know we have to increase the size of the education pie.”

Having said that, Roberson added that the changes to the funding formula are needed.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, the chairman of the panel, said the changes are needed to bring equity to the public education funding formula. But overall funding needs to be addressed by the Legislature as well, he said.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801.