More than $1B needed in special funding for Nevada students

A plan to provide additional money to help specific student needs would cost more than $1 billion — money that may not be available for Nevada schools this biennium.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, introduced Senate Bill 178 Thursday, which would move Nevada’s school funding closer to a weighted formula. The committee took no action on the bill.

“It’s my feeling that, if we are to be committed to a weighted funding formula, then we should actually make a commitment,” Denis said.

Education advocates and schools districts have pushed for the weighted formula, which Clark County is required to introduce as part of a state-mandated reorganization.

Denis proposed funding special education students twice as much as traditional students and funding English language learners and at-risk students — those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch — one-and-a-half times more than traditional students.

The funding weight for English language learners and at-risk students would be implemented to the 1.5 weight over a four-year period, starting with a 1.05 weight in fiscal 2018 and reaching 1.5 by fiscal 2021.

Special education students already receive a 1.5 weight in the state funding formula. Denis’ proposal would increase that weight to 2.0 for fiscal 2018.

The proposal would cost about $1.4 billion to implement, according to fiscal notes prepared by the Nevada Department of Education.

Although there’s been support for education initiatives, that number might be too high to sell, said Brent Husson, the president of Nevada Succeeds, an organization that works to engage businesses with public schools.

“To now come back and say we just need another billion, I don’t think that’s going to be politically palatable,” he said.

Denis’ proposal drew support from school districts and unions, but even supporters said the state had to look at the base funding for traditional students, too.

“We’ve been committed to this modernization. We have to address adequacy first. It doesn’t matter what the weights are if the starting number is too low to begin with,” said Lindsay Anderson, the Washoe County School District director of government affairs.

The governor’s proposed budget recommends a base per-pupil funding of $5,900. That’s more than 2 percent higher than last year’s funding, but Nevada ranks low compared to other states on per-pupil funding.

Gov. Brian Sandoval also included proposed increases for education programs created in 2013 and 2015 in his budget.

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.