Commission begins its work implementing new school funding formula; political pressures already evident
The technical committee charged with guiding the implementation of the state’s new school funding formula already met some resistance during its inaugural meeting Friday.
The newly formed Commission on School Funding met Friday and assessed the Herculean task that lies ahead. But before members even dug into their work, political divisions appeared during public comment when the Nevada State Education Association criticized the new formula and the commission makeup. The Clark County Education Association then offered its support to the commission.
In the waning hours of the Legislature, state lawmakers approved Senate Bill 543, which overhauls the state’s 52-year-old education funding formula by placing revenue streams in a single funding pot and moving toward a weighted funding model in which student groups with more needs receive extra money.
But the legislation didn’t formalize all elements, including what the weights should be as well as certain cost adjustment factors that take into consideration the cost of living and labor in various districts. The 11-member commission will help sort out some of those details over the next few months.
“Hopefully, we will all collaboratively be working together — school districts and the Nevada Department of Education — because we have experienced in years past that decisions have been made to school districts instead of with school districts,” said Paul Johnson, a commission member and chief financial officer of the White Pine County School District. “I want to make sure we don’t repeat those mistakes that have happened in the past.”
The commission elected member Guy Hobbs, who founded a financial consulting firm that has provided technical guidance to the Legislature for decades, to serve as vice chair. In August, Gov. Steve Sisolak appointed Dr. Karlene McCormick-Lee to serve as chair of the commission. McCormick-Lee previously worked in the Clark County School District, holding a variety of roles, and now serves as a visiting scholar at UNLV’s Educational Leadership and Policy Development graduate program.
The first meeting hinted at the policy fights to come, though. Nominations for vice chair showed clear divisions between rural and urban school districts, which will be affected differently by the new funding formula.
Representatives from the Nevada State Education Association — which opposed SB543 — lamented the lack of new education funding and argued that any funding formula would fail without greater investment in the K-12 sector. They also took issue with the makeup of the commission, which does not include a teacher.
“Those most impacted by the deliberations you will make have been relegated to the cheap seats,” said Alexander Marks, a spokesman for the statewide teachers’ association.
The Clark County Education Association, however, plans to be “as supportive as possible,” the union’s executive director, John Vellardita, told the commission members. “We don’t see any fixes. We see recommendations,” he said. “I think that’s the charge of your scope.”
The commission’s first order of business was to form two working groups — one focused on the formula and distribution, led by David Jensen, superintendent of the Humboldt County School District, and another focused on monitoring and reporting, led by Jim McIntosh, the CFO for the City of Henderson. Each working group has five commission members, including Jensen and McIntosh.
The commission will be working under a relatively short timeline considering its to-do list — much of which is technical in nature as the state transitions from the old funding formula to the new one. The commission must submit its recommendations to the governor and Legislature by July 15.
The group’s next meeting will be Oct. 11.