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Report: Education funding needs look

CARSON CITY — Fiscal home rule in Nevada’s school districts is just an "illusion" because the Legislature exerts so much control over education funding, according to a Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce report released Monday.

Legislators have "substantially more control over school funding than do the locally elected school boards," which limits the ability of public school leaders to respond to local problems, the report found.

Because education is the state’s largest single expenditure, it is important that the Legislature re-examine school funding in the coming session, said Steve Hill, a chamber director and the chairman of GOP Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval’s economic development transition task force.

"We are looking to improve education in the middle of an economic downturn, so it is important to look at how the money is distributed," he said.

The critical chamber report raises the question of how Nevada schools are funded at a time when state officials anticipate crafting a 2011-13 budget with a serious shortfall in revenue. It’s now estimated that state tax revenues in the next two-year budget period will be $5.33 billion, or about $1 billion less than current spending.

Sandoval has pledged not to raise taxes, a scenario that has state school systems bracing for the possible loss of 10 percent or more of their state support, which is $2.6 billion in the current budget.

Like numerous other studies, the chamber also found that total per pupil spending in Nevada is $7,806, or 47th in the nation. That’s 9.4 percent below the national average of $9,683.

Chamber President Hugh Anderson noted that many of the legislators in 2011 will be newcomers and hopes the report will be useful to them in clarifying how the state funds education. About two-thirds of the money for educating students in Nevada comes from state appropriations.

"The report brings to light several areas that may need reconsideration given our current economic conditions and the relative underperformance of Nevada’s students on achievement tests," said Anderson in a statement.

The state’s school financing plan, called the Nevada Plan, does not even take into account the number of economically disadvantaged students and limited English speakers served by districts and offers "no incentives for student achievement or developing alternative school government structures," according to the report.

Sandoval has appointed Dale Erquiaga, a former Clark County School District official, as his policy director, and Terri Janison, president of the Clark County School Board, as head of his Las Vegas office.

Hill said the chamber is not advocating the cutting of teacher pay, but is looking to align what teachers are paid with student performance.

He added that having a quality education system is an important factor in attracting new businesses to the state.

The funding report and other chamber reports on education were prepared for the chamber by Jeremy Aguero of Applied Analysis in Las Vegas.

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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