By Selwyn Harris
The issue of finding new methods to fund Nevada schools was front and center at the Nye County School District Board of Trustees meeting last week.
At present, the 44-year old Nevada Plan is the formula used by the Legislature every two years to fund public education in the Silver State.
More than two years ago, the Nevada State Legislature directed the legislative commission to appoint a committee to conduct a study on Senate Bill SB 11 concerning the development of a new method for funding public schools.
The bill was approved by Gov. Brian Sandoval last June.
Clark County School District Associate Superintendent Joyce Haldeman provided additional information on SB 11 during a presentation to the board during a meeting last Tuesday evening.
Haldeman said it was time to again study how the students of Nevada should be adequately funded and review the Nevada Plan to determine whether it was still valid or if a new method of funding should be adopted based on the needs of students.
“The reason the Clark County School District brought this forward is because the existing method of funding students is outdated and has been in place since 1967. The makers of the Nevada Plan in 1967 were clear to state that they knew that over a period of time, over the years, it would need to be adjusted and looked at carefully and we felt the time had come.
“In 1967, our state was much more homogenous than it is now. In fact, the way that they calculated ethnicity in the 60s was white, black, or other. At that time we had 95 percent of students who were white and certainly at that time the makers of the Nevada Plan did not conceive of the fact that we would have so many students who were coming to our school districts that don’t speak English and had other needs other than just learning to read, write, and do arithmetic. We felt that the time had come that we ought to take a look at that,” she said.
Haldeman also said that at present, there’s no hurry in looking for new methods of funding schools because the process should proceed in a series of steps.
“The first step was to have the study and to have an outside source come in and give a recommendation on how they think funding should be done. The second step is what will take place during the next legislative session and that is without applying dollars to it, that all counties come to the table and talk about what is a fair equitable way to make sure the needs of all students are recognized.
“As the economy continues to improve most likely in the 2015 session, that we then actually start looking at additional funding to recognize those needs in a form that has been agreed upon. That is the course of action that we have recommended. I just want to reassure you that is not our intent to take any money from you and I think that is the reason Superintendent Norton asked me to come here and reassure on what our intent is,” she said.
Funding for Nevada schools is deposited into a general fund at the state level.
Board of Trustees President Traci Ward said the funds are distributed by calculating property and other taxes within communities.
“Not every county gets the same amount of dollars from the state, but the idea is that the students will basically have the same dollar amount in the long run to educate each student. What Clark County is saying is that you cannot fund students that way because it costs more to educate some students than other students,” she said.
Ward was referencing special education and students who have limited English speaking skills among others.
While understanding Haldeman’s concern for a new method of funding education, Ward noted that costs throughout districts can vary.
“What my concerns are is it costs more to educate students in a rural area than it does in a city area. That is our concern because that category is kind of being ignored but what she says actually does make sense,” she said.
There is only so much state funding for students attending Nevada’s 17 school districts.
Each district fights tooth and nail to keep their current funding.
Ward pointed to one rural Nevada county who gets the lion’s share in terms of state funding.
“Clark County is looking at Esmeralda County and saying that Esmeralda gets the highest dollar amount per student. But Esmeralda County has difficulty educating their students for that amount of money because they are rural and it just costs more. We are looking at it from a point of view that they want to take that money from the students.
“Nobody mentions Eureka County, who gets enough money from the net proceeds of mines that they only get a hundred dollars back per student if they get anything and some people kind of ignore that. Basically, Joyce is looking for support and what she says does make sense. Different students cost different amounts and you should get different amounts to educate them because it costs more,” Ward said.
Haldeman noted that the Clark County School District is not out to do harm to any other Nevada district.
“I don’t know what your population is but I imagine that you have special education kids that have certain needs. I am positive you have a free and reduced lunch program population that you would like to devote more resources to,” she said.
Board member Harold Tokerude seemed a bit skeptical about adopting new funding methods that would benefit districts with higher student populations such as Clark County.
“I see it as more money comes in it is going to go to those students you have identified and we’re going to be here with the same number of students we have and we’re going to keep the same funding. If any money ever does come in, I don’t see an increase, I see it going down so I have a problem with the whole thing,” he said.
Trustee Robert Mobley seemed to have a problem with how part of Haldeman’s presentation was worded.
“You said we are not interested in harming your district and that’s great, but you ended your presentation by saying ‘It’s not our intention’ and that is really critical because it’s not your intention and you are not necessarily voting on the law, legislatures are. Sixty-five to 70 percent of legislatures in the state are in Clark County. They want to get re-elected so they are going to be saying ‘We have to do this for our community.’ But what about us,” Mobley said.