By Dr. David Jensen
Last week during a joint session of Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means, the state was provided the first broad-based presentation of SB543, the bill intended to modernize Nevada’s K-12 funding formula. As a former school psychologist, administrator and now superintendent in Nevada for 23 years, I can attest to the need to change the formula. There is no doubt the current Nevada Plan is complicated, outdated and doesn’t serve the Nevada of today.
However, I cannot fathom how a complete omission of discussions regarding adequacy could be possible as the new plan was developed. As a result, the authors of the new bill presented a formula that would be detrimental to 14 out of 17 of Nevada’s school districts. The clear exception to this being our two biggest districts (the third is Mineral). As a result, what has been agreed on as inadequate funding will simply be re-divided, creating a series of winners and losers, with the rural school districts taking the brunt of the impact.
The APA study which is the premise for this funding formula found that all but one school district is considered to have inadequate funding, so why then does this formula leave the majority of school districts behind?
Forget the study. I can personally tell you that in my district we have seen increasing class sizes, dilapidated school buses and outdated curriculum, and we have become increasingly reliant on grant funding to meet many of our basic needs. I cannot look at my students and teachers and tell them that this is acceptable, or that we are going to not only concede to being stagnant for years but also run the risk of falling further behind as inflation and other increased costs catch up to us.
The freeze and squeeze is real. If this funding formula goes into effect, it is probable that my school district will not see any increase in funds for roughly four to seven years as the formula provides additional funds primarily only to the urban districts for years. Other school districts have an even longer freeze than us.
This could cause us to lose teachers because we can’t provide raises even as Governor Sisolak has stated a 3 percent raise has been included in the formula. It will also keep us from buying books and school buses, and keep us from addressing some of our other critical needs such as meeting the needs of an aging infrastructure. Yes, it’s true, our class sizes are not as large as they are down South but is it the goal for our class sizes to grow as well? Are we just lowering the bar to bring everyone down to the same level of inadequacy?
In Humboldt County School District and the other 15 rural districts, we don't have the benefit of providing magnet schools or CTE Schools; we don’t have professional development departments, legal departments, equity departments or, for many districts, school resource officers. Our challenges are different but one thing is true about all our school districts — we ALL have challenges.
No one disagrees that they are poorly funded down South but to take inadequate resources from the rural districts and essentially tell us our needs are not as important is plain irresponsible and disheartening.
This bill also taps into our ending-fund balance that we work hard to preserve and have plans for. We have developed a strong relationship with our certified and classified associations (unions) with a joint commitment to fiscal stability, now taken from our control. The bill also removes Net Proceeds of Minerals (NPM), despite those revenues being protected by the state Constitution, as well as the Governmental Services Tax (GST) which is frequently the only source of facilities upkeep that districts can rely on. If we lose these funds we lose the stability that has allowed our rural locations to operate, even if it is inequitable to what is available in our urban locations.
Districts can wipe out our entire fund balances, relinquish all NPM and GST, and while it will be detrimental to our districts, it wouldn’t make a dent into what CCSD needs.
Despite these clear concerns, we are told not to worry as “Hold Harmless” will provide a buffer during the years of no fiscal growth, ignoring the fact that annual increases will simply put rural districts further in the hole. All while our staff have been promised COLA increases, a PERS increase and a 3 percent salary increase.
Clark County officials have publicly stated that they haven’t received funds to meet these fiscal commitments, yet as rural funds are swept to the urbans’, what hope do the rural school districts have to meet these growing commitments?
We want to like this formula. We want it to be successful and are committed to being part of the solution, but we also want it to serve ALL Nevada students, not just re-slice the pie. We must shift the conversation to adequacy before equity can be met.
Dr. David Jensen is superintendent of Humboldt County School District.