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COMMENTARY: Nevada lawmakers must make a down payment on the state’s future

Nevada ranks 45th in education funding and was given an F in fiscal effort by the Education Law Center. This underwhelming feat was accomplished because Nevada uses an antiquated funding formula that is the oldest in the nation.

Additionally, a 2018 study commissioned by the state Department of Education found Nevada funds its public schools at only 58 percent of adequacy. That means our students receive only 58 percent of the amount needed to have the opportunity to meet our state’s education standards.

With consistently declining state ratings and no meaningful changes in sight, three organizations of parents, teachers and education advocates came together a year ago to launch the Fund Our Future Nevada coalition with the shared goal of ensuring that every student in Nevada receives the necessary resources to succeed.

The coalition launched with three simple objectives:

1) Modernize Nevada’s 50-year-old school funding formula and increase education funds.

2) Ensure all revenues raised for education actually increase education funds, such as certain room tax funds and the marijuana tax.

3) Ensure accountability and transparency of all new funds.

In its first year, Fund Our Future Nevada has grown to include 21 statewide coalition partners, including the Nevada Association of School Boards and nine Nevada school districts including Clark and Washoe counties. Additionally, hundreds of individuals across Nevada have signed our pledge in support of its focused education funding goals.

The Department of Education study determined the state needs to spend approximately $9,500 per pupil to bring the state’s schools up to full adequacy.

To be clear, Fund Our Future Nevada recognizes this huge financial hurdle cannot be accomplished in only one legislative session. However, the coalition would like to see the Legislature put a financial down payment toward incrementally fully funding a modern education formula.

We can start by ensuring the IP1 room tax meant for education no longer supplants — and instead actually increases — education funding as intended, which would mean at least a $200 million increase in education funding next fiscal year. The state has used the education funds to balance the budget. We believe education should finally be the priority in funding.

We’d like to see the state finally take the advice of one of these funding studies (this is the fifth one) and fund to the recommended amount. We are not expecting it to happen in one session, but we would like to work toward that over time and see it realized as a statewide solution.

A recent report in Education Week stated that education funding formulas should be redone every 10 years but found that on average they are modernized only every 20 years. However, The Nevada Plan, our state’s public education funding formula created in 1967, remains the oldest in the nation.

If we don’t modernize Nevada’s formula in the 2019 session, then when will we, if ever?

Fund Our Future Nevada aims to overhaul and modernize the funding formula to ensure Nevada has weighted funding for students with unique education needs as well as adequate funding for all the resources necessary for every student to succeed.

One way to do this is by using a cost-based funding method that not only covers teacher salaries but also factors in class sizes, the need for support staff, proper technology, equipment, books, counselors, etc. Ultimately, it’s about supporting the students and staff by providing a quality learning and teaching atmosphere. A cost-based funding formula also allows for better tracking of where funding is going and allows for proper accountability and transparency.

As Gov. Steve Sisolak has stated, we should support #EveryStudentEveryCounty. Nevada needs an equitable, statewide solution that provides supports for all of Nevada’s students.

Nevada has new leadership in Carson City, and we have faith that they will make the drastic and lasting changes our students deserve. Every Nevada student has the right to a quality education, and we should not settle for anything less.

Michelle Booth is the communication director for Educate Nevada Now, a member of Fund Our Future Nevada, a statewide coalition with the goal of fixing Nevada’s education funding formula and increasing funds.

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