Nevada panel: Next step is to determine impact of funding formula changes on school districts

CARSON CITY — With a recommendation on the table to alter Nevada’s education funding formula to increase spending on at-risk pupils, a state panel was told Thursday that the next step will be to determine the financial ramifications of such a change on Nevada’s 17 school districts.

A state Technical Advisory Committee on Wednesday recommended an increase in funding for students in poverty or with limited English proficiency by 50 percent, establishing a minimum 1.5 weighted ratio in calculating their share of a school district’s total state and local per pupil funding.

The state Legislature could set the ratio at an even higher rate but the panel recommended that the weight be no lower than 1.5.

The proposal and other recommendations from the advisory committee were reviewed Thursday by the Task Force on K-12 Public Education Funding.

Task Force member Bob Burnham, representing county school boards on the panel, asked if the costs of the recommendations from the advisory committee had been analyzed.

The Clark County School District is expected to benefit financially from the change to the formula because of the higher populations of the weighted groups.

Burnham said that without increased funding, the recommendation could gut public education in Nevada.

He pointed to one calculation in a study provided to the task force in September 2012 by the American Institutes for Research. The analysis, which assumed a 1.34 weighted ratio for students in poverty and a 1.99 weight for English language learners, showed that rural school districts would see large reductions in per pupil funding from the distributive school account if overall revenues remained unchanged.

Storey County would see a 39 percent reduction, Lincoln County would see a 41 percent reduction, and Mineral County, which already has the lowest graduation rate in the state, would see a 30 percent reduction, Burnham noted.

Clark County would see a 6 percent increase to $5,390.

State Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, the chairwoman of the Technical Advisory Committee, said those numbers have not yet been analyzed under the recommended minimum ratios.

Woodhouse said the panel focused on the policy issue of how to change the formula to better deliver education to Nevada students in its daylong discussion Wednesday.

Julie Waller, a legislative analyst who advises the panel, said staff will now run numbers to see what the effects of the policy recommendation, if it is ultimately adopted by the 2015 Legislature, will have on the districts. The information will be reviewed by the advisory committee at its next meeting June 5.

The advisory panel did recommend that districts be kept financially whole in the first two years if the formula change becomes law. This would be accomplished by applying the revised formula only to any new funding for the public school system in the next two-year budget.

After that, there would be a four-year transition beginning in fiscal year 2018 to apply the new formula to all of the public education funding, with a 10 percent maximum reduction or gain in the first year, reaching 100 percent in the fourth year.

Burnham said the phase-in of the new formula, if no new revenue was provided to public education, would be like cutting someone’s arm off but doing it over four years “so it won’t hurt.”

Assemblywoman and task force member Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, said the panel needs to get the funding formula properly set. It will then be up to the Legislature and governor to answer the question of how to pay for it, she said.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801.

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