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Research firm to study Nevada school funding

CARSON CITY – A Washington, D.C.-headquartered education research firm was chosen Friday by an interim legislative committee to carry out a $125,000 study aimed at finding a new way to fund public schools in Nevada.

The American Institutes for Research was picked unanimously by the five-member Committee to Study a New Method for Funding Public Schools. Two members said the Cross & Joftus firm of Bethesda, Md., was their first choice, but they wanted to make the selection unanimous.

Cross & Joftus will be authorized to do the study if American Institutes for some reason cannot finish the work. The firm has until Aug. 28 to submit its final version.

Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, said she picked American Institutes because among the members of its staff are education professors from Nevada’s two universities.

"They have folks in Northern Nevada and Southern Nevada who know the landscape, and it would behoove us to keep our dollars in the state," she said.

Under a law passed by the Legislature, the interim committee was authorized to select an education consulting firm that would review how public schools are funded in all states and recommend changes in how Nevada funds its schools.

Nevada has been funding schools since 1967 under a formula that considers the total amount of state and local support available for each of the 17 school districts and allocates more state funds to poorer districts than wealthier ones.

Legislators have become increasingly concerned about student funding as student performance on national tests ranks near the bottom and a growing number of Nevada students are poor and English language learners. In 2011, 57 percent of Nevada students were eligible for free or reduced cost lunches.

Dr. Jay Chambers of the American Institutes said his firm has done a similar study in New Mexico, which like Nevada has a high number of students living in poverty and who are English language learners. The firm also has done studies in New York, California, Alaska and other states.

But Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, expressed concern that Chambers, in his presentation to the committee, did not mention whether his staff will contact parents and seek their input on how to fund schools.

Denis, a former state PTA president, emphasized with representatives for all four consulting firms seeking the contract that parents are important stakeholders who should be contacted.

Although current per student funding for Clark and Washoe Counties is almost the same, Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, raised concern that the study might end with recommendations that Clark County funding should be increased at the expense of Washoe and rural counties.

Brower said the move to conduct the study was "Clark County driven" and noted that Nevada has a "finite amount of money."

The money for the study comes from donations raised by the Clark County School District.

One consultant, Augenblick, Palaich and Associates of Denver, received little support for it proposals. The company had carried out a state study in 2006 that recommended Nevada spend $1.3 billion more a year on its schools. That amount was considered necessary for all Nevada students to meet the proficiency requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind law. Scant attention was given to that recommendation in the following legislative session.

Brower noted the firm did not include its Nevada study in its list of previous work it had done for states.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.

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