For its 2017 legislative fight, the Clark County School District heads to Carson City with money on its mind.
The district has crafted a lobbying agenda this year that is, in part, a reaction to the whirlwind education initiatives from 2015 — most notably, the Achievement School District and mandated reorganization effort known as AB394.
Though the district has filed a complaint in court over certain provisions of the reorganization law, it’s still focused on securing what’s needed for the overhaul.
A weighted student funding formula tops the list of priorities — an effort the state Department of Education last estimated to cost more than half a billion dollars for the next biennium statewide.
The formula would delegate different per-pupil amounts to students in four categories, assigning more money to those students with special needs, such as students in poverty or English language learners.
It’s an issue that district officials have repeatedly stressed as crucial for the reorganization effort, which requires each school to individually craft its own budget based on student population.
“The weighted funding formula, sometimes we get so used to saying that phrase that we forget what it means for kids,” said Trustee Erin Cranor. “To have more individuals in the schools that can help and spend time.”
Yet the formula has been a source of confusion, as the state Department of Education and the district have gone back and forth over who should actually develop the student weights.
If the budgets aren’t developed and the money isn’t assigned, the district argues that it will take money away from general education that’s already underfunded.
The district is also requesting money for a new human capital management system to replace the roughly 25-year-old system that still handles many documents.
And with school organizational teams forming at each school, the district will also seek legal protection for parents in those groups.
Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, has requested a bill draft that would extend school sovereign immunity for those parents, eliminating a risk that might deter participation on those teams.
PROPERTY TAX REFORM
Schools aren’t the only ones hurt by the property tax caps passed in 2005, which tie the property tax increase to inflation or long-term home value.
The cap was set up because property values at the time were escalating at a rate that would have made it hard for taxpayers to pay their bills, said Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst with the Applied Analysis group that has studied the issue.
But now, the cap means just a 0.2 percent property tax increase for fiscal year 2017.
“The problem we’re running into is that the economy is growing. The population is growing,” Aguero said. “With regard to education, there’s more children that are in schools, and we have less property tax to be able to support that education. And that’s a problem that is going to get worse over time.”
The state had about $700 million in tax abatements this year, roughly 40 percent of which would have otherwise gone to schools, he said.
One solution is to establish a floor for the cap, not allowing it to dip below a certain number.
The district will also lobby for an education stabilization fund that will reserve any excess revenue collected for per-pupil amounts, which currently goes back to the state’s general fund.
Saving that money in a rainy-day fund exclusively for education would be very helpful, said Nicole Rourke, interim associate superintendent for government relations, who will head to the state capital as part of a three-person lobbying team.
“Over the years, it would’ve saved us making a lot of different cuts,” she said.
‘SANCTITY OF AN ELECTED BOARD’
The lobbying team will support keeping school boards elected, as talk swirls of possible efforts to make them appointed.
It’s an idea that has been floated in the past but never fully came to fruition. Trustees also want to keep their seats elected.
“Even as you see us have differences on the school board, every single trustee on this board is there because they care about kids and want kids to be successful,” said Trustee Carolyn Edwards. “And that’s huge.”
The Achievement School District, which will pair up to six underperforming schools with charter operators, received backlash from the start.
In the state capital, the district will maintain an opposition to transferring its own schools to any other entities. Meanwhile, a bill draft request to repeal the initiative altogether will work its way through the legislature.
The district also has a bill request to require charter school sponsors to consult with local school districts on new charter school sites.
Aside from the district itself, the State Public Charter School Authority acts as a sponsor of charter schools, approving new applications.
SPCSA Executive Director Patrick Gavin said he appreciates the thought put into the bill, but he argued there’s already a public process in place.
But with real estate constraints, it would be extraordinarily challenging for the authority to predict where a school might be until it’s guaranteed as a feasible site, Gavin explained.
“The challenge is when you commit yourself to a particular location, you’re then to some degree captive to what the market will demand of you,” he said. “If someone wants you to pay 20 cents on the dollar of your revenue and you’re committed to a particular area, that is a serious financial constraint.”
Grappling with a teacher shortage, the district will also file a bill to eliminate certain exam requirements for initial licensure.
The bill would remove the requirement for tests on the state and U.S. Constitution, as well as Nevada school laws.
The technicality of getting the test taken and out of the way has been a bit of an obstacle, Cranor said.
“It just seems like one of those things that probably is not worth losing a teacher back to another state for,” she said.
Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.