A Clark County School District policy change will divert more federal money to the neediest schools while yanking it from 55 other campuses in the 2019-2020 academic year.
The move — announced in a memo to principals last week — comes as Superintendent Jesus Jara focuses on improving equity within the nation’s fifth-largest school district. Clark County schools with higher percentages of children who receive or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (FRL) tend to have more needs and also more long-term substitutes or less-experienced teachers, a problem that has come under increasing scrutiny.
The change affects Title I funding, a revenue stream from the U.S. Department of Education to help districts and schools better serve children from low-income families. Going forward, only schools with FRL student populations of 60 percent or greater will receive a Title I allocation, said Mike Barton, the district’s chief college, career, and equity officer. The previous cutoff was 40 percent, which had been in place for several years.
School districts have some discretion in how they distribute the Title I dollars. A guiding document from the Nevada Department of Education states that districts generally must provide Title I funding to schools serving FRL student populations of 75 percent or more. District officials said many urban school districts only allocate Title I funding to schools at or above that threshold.
“It’s not an easy decision,” Barton said. “We understand all schools have needs.”
He said the action boiled down to leveling the playing field for the district’s most vulnerable children by providing those campuses with more resources. The decision will result in funding losses — which could be as much as several hundred thousand dollars — for eight high schools, 12 middle schools and 35 elementary schools, according to data released by the district.
On the flip side, some of the district’s most challenged schools could receive more than $1 million in Title I funding because of the reallocation, Barton said. That money could be put toward lowering class sizes, hiring additional staff members and starting intervention programs, among other options.
The memo noted that schools with FRL rates between 57 percent and 59.99 percent could appeal the decision through their school associate superintendent. It’s unclear how many schools fall into the category. The district didn’t release the FRL rates for the 55 schools that will be affected.
Jonathan Synold, principal of Advanced Technologies Academy, said his school has an FRL rate of 49 percent and stands to lose roughly $120,000. A-Tech has received Title I funding for three years, he said, and has put that money toward prep buyouts, which are a class-size reduction strategy. Schools pay teachers for taking on another class rather than having a planning period.
A-Tech’s school organizational team has decided not to replace a physical-education teacher, who’s retiring, which will increase the size of P.E. classes. Synold said the school hopes to shuffle other funding priorities to minimize other effects of the Title I cut.
Synold said he understands the rationale behind directing those funds to schools with greater needs, but the change still stings. The number of FRL students at his school has been trending upward.
“I just wish the Legislature would have had the weighted-funding formula in place this budgeting season so we could have these funds for all kids,” he said. “We’re still dealing with all the budget cuts we’ve had over the last few years.”
Some Title I funds — mostly money from the disbanded Turnaround Zone — will go toward a new educator incentive program that Jara announced earlier this month, Barton said. He doesn’t anticipate the reallocated Title I funds to go toward that purpose. Teachers and principals who work in select high-need schools could receive a $10,000 recruitment and retention bonus as well as a $5,000 performance supplement based on student outcomes.
Barton said the policy change will force greater accountability among schools receiving more funds and could lead to an uptick in school-based FRL rates. District officials suspect the number of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch is higher than what’s reported. For various reasons, some students or families may be hesitant to apply.
“If you have that need, we just encourage families to work with schools and counselors,” he said.
Kenneth Retzl, director of education policy at the Guinn Center, said he’s sympathetic to both sides of the funding equation. He said there’s no doubt schools with higher FRL rates have more challenges and, therefore, need more resources, but the change also means lower-income students at schools cut off from funding might lose out on beneficial programming.
“It’s a catch-22, really,” he said.
The policy change coincides with the district’s budgeting season. Schools received their strategic budget workbooks, which are based on projected enrollment, Jan. 15.
This story was updated after Mike Barton clarified his comments about the reallocation of Title I money.