How fair is school funding in Nevada?
Nevada is the only state that earned all Fs in the Making the Grade 2022 report, released on December 13, 2022. The Education Law Center uses three measures — funding level, funding distribution, and funding effort — to help answer the question, “How fair is school funding in your state?” Based on our grades, school funding is not fair in Nevada.
As an educator, my students and I need to have a fighting chance to improve teaching and learning outcomes by being afforded a first-class education system. “A fair, equitable and adequate school funding formula is the basic building block of a well-resourced and academically successful school system for all students.” I offer three recommendations on how Nevada can make strides towards investing in our children by providing a fairly funded education system:
- Increase funding levels without supplanting. We ranked 47 out of 51 for our funding level, spending $4,370 less than the national average (which is adjusted using the Comparable Wage Index). The funding effort is determined by comparing the size of our economy (Gross Domestic Product) to PK-12 education revenue. This is the first legislative session since the COVID-19 pandemic where we have had economic growth. Nevada’s economy has been ranked as first in the nation; therefore, we have the economic capacity to honor the requirement to increase the state’s general fund contributions and to stop supplanting the education budget.
- True weighted funds. Nevada’s funding has been regressive, meaning that on average, high-poverty districts received $3,516 less per pupil than low-poverty districts. 2023-24 will be the first school year that the funding formula will enact true weighted funding distribution, ensuring that students who are identified as ‘at-risk’ will receive the additional funds to support their learning. Up to 2023, according to SB543, districts had discretion on how to reasonably distribute funds to their schools; now the weighted funding will be directed to schools based on student enrollment rather than going through the district. Will districts use federal funding or reallocate Title I monies to offset this change in how schools are funded?
- Be transparent with the new at-risk criteria. In previous years, we have used the criteria of Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) qualification as the definition for identifying students who are ‘at-risk’; this has helped districts determine which schools would receive additional funds to support our most academically vulnerable students. The Nevada Department of Education (NDE) has diligently worked to identify new criteria and factors to create a relevant definition for ‘at risk’. According to Educate Nevada Now, “Students eligible for additional funding dropped from 271,618 to only 66,674 - a 75% cut in students who will now get resources.”
When asked, at the March 18, 2022 Commission on School Funding Meeting, to clarify the new definition of ‘at-risk’, NDE reiterated that they created the definition in consultation with a third-party company; using a proprietary formula to identify which factors to take into consideration to define ‘at-risk’ as well as determining how those factors interact. I'm curious as to how the legislature understands and uses the formula and definition of 'at-risk' to ensure equity for each student in Nevada.
School funding matters to all of us: students, parents, teachers, advocates, policymakers, business and community leaders. We must align our efforts to impact the equity and adequacy of public school funding in our state. I worry that as the additional federal recovery funds are exhausted or expire, essential learning opportunities, mental health services, and academic supports also disappear? We have the opportunity during the 82nd legislative session to prove that Nevadans are willing to use research and evidence-based decisions to put forth the economic effort to fund our students’ right to an adequately funded, equitable, and excellent education.
Jen Loescher serves as an educator, supporting middle school math teachers. She is a Teach Plus Nevada Senior Policy Fellow.