By Chet Miller
With only five weeks left in the 80th Legislative session, the pressure is on. Bills have died, bills have moved on and many look like a diluted version of what they were when they were first introduced.
But one key bill, perhaps the most important bill of the session, has yet to be introduced.
The new education funding formula bill has been talked about plenty. Some of the discussion centers on the fact that at 50 years old. Our current funding formula, known as the Nevada Plan, is the oldest in the nation; the fact that it doesn’t adequately serve all students and that it allows money to be supplanted. But most importantly, that it’s just plain broken and it’s largely to blame for the failures of our education system.
But throughout the last year we’ve felt that this was the session that was going to finally make things right. Legislators and other elected officials ran with “modernizing the funding formula” as part of their platform. Even more promising, over the past year the Nevada Department of Education had meetings with all the school districts to discuss a new funding formula. This was it folks; no more studies, no more talk, this was to be the session for action.
And yet two-thirds of the way into the session, we have not seen a bill.
A group of us — concerned advocates, teachers, and parents — have met with several members of the Senate and Assembly, to discuss the formula, but after a while there was fatigue.
Legislators have told us, “Can’t discuss it anymore until we see a bill,” and “we heard your concerns and requests, we’ll talk again when the bill comes out.”
We keep hearing no one wants to talk until the bill comes out, but shouldn’t there be ongoing dialogue to ensure we end up with a good bill?
The perception – there is no plan to get input or get stakeholder buy-in, despite early promises that stakeholder input meetings would be held after the bill’s release.
Perhaps they don’t want to talk because they know the bill won’t actually follow the recommendations from the funding study commissioned by the Legislature – a study that found Nevada’s funding system is grossly underfunded. Maybe they know their bill will take creative liberties with the funding study – watering it down so much that no student nor teacher will see smaller class sizes or improved resources in their schools.
Is this accurate? We can’t say for sure, we haven’t seen the bill.
We keep hearing that the bill is about changing the distribution and not actually about increasing resources. When you rank 45th in funding and get an “F” for fiscal effort, what kind of achievement impact will we see by just shuffling funds? The expression “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” comes to mind.
The funding formula bill is too important to be rubber-stamped.
To be clear, we do want a new formula, but we will not settle for something that only shifts funds and does not actually set up our students for success. We want it to be designed for growth to reach full adequacy – not all at once, but eventually.
If the CCSD reorganization bill took one year, dozens of public meetings, two different committees and is still being modified – how can we expect the new education funding formula for the entire state to get the proper input with only a few weeks left in session?
Here’s what we do know: When the bill does come out, the community will be combing through it, we will read it meticulously, we will unite and we WILL be heard.
Chet Miller is the President of National Educators Association of Southern Nevada (NEA-SN), a member of the Fund Our Future Nevada coalition and an educator at the Clark County School District.