Nevada education supporters rally to call for new school funding formula

by Brian Bahouth

Carson City – Hundreds of raucous public education advocates gathered in front of the Legislature in Carson City and the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas on day 15 of the 2019 session to call for increased funding for K-12 education in Nevada.

Red for Ed is a National Education Association (NEA) initiative that has prompted education advocates in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Los Angeles, Denver and most recently Carson City, to dress in red and descend on their respective statehouses to demand greater financial support for public schools.  

Public schools in Nevada rank last or near last in the nation for student to teacher ratio and in other important categories like funding per pupil, and today with the help of the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA), hundreds of teachers and school workers off for Washington’s birthday rallied in Carson City and Las Vegas wearing red.  A series of speakers addressed the crowd.

Notes from the Red for Ed web page:
1 out of 5 educators must take another job to make ends meet.
71% of people think teachers are not paid enough.  
16% less funding goes to districts with the highest poverty.

Tyrone Thompson is a Democrat representing North Las Vegas and is chair of the Assembly Committee on Education.  He and many of the Democratic lawmakers from both houses appeared and spoke at the rally. Not a single Republican lawmaker was in attendance.  Assemblyman Thompson apologized to those assembled and those who work in Nevada schools for working with too few resources.

“We have a funding formula that undercuts our local schools,” Thompson said.  “And I just wanted to share that I have something in common with that funding formula.  It was established the same year that I was born.  I know that I have changed in 51 years, and I know that it needs to change.

“This real.  This is data.  This is what we know that this is,” Thompson continued.  “Our students of color, especially those in low-income neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by this outdated system.”

One of more than 100 education supporters to rally in Carson City on February 18, 2019 – image – Brian Bahouth

Henderson Democrat Senator Joyce Woodhouse spoke at the rally and vowed that the current method of funding public schools in the state, the Nevada Plan, was going to change.

“I just want to pledge to you again as a retired first grade school teacher and administrator that we are working very very hard that we address the needs of public education in the state of Nevada, and number one on that list is to revise and modernize the Nevada Plan,” Woodhouse said to rousing applause.

Nevada schools have been funded according to the Nevada Plan since 1967.  How the new way of funding schools apportions money remains to be seen, but during his State of the State address, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said Nevada K-12 educators would get a three percent raise.  He also said the New Nevada Plan would provide academic support to an additional 28,200 at-risk students.

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Finance and Assembly Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittees on K-12/Higher Education/CIP will consider budget details of the New Nevada Education Funding Plan with Jonathan P. Moore, Ed.D., acting Superintendent of Public Instruction in Nevada.

A Nevada School Finance Study released last August showed that Nevada schools are underfunded.  The Nevada Plan has been amended over the years, but the funding plan is much like it was in 1967.

How are Nevada schools currently funded?

The Nevada Plan is an equalization formula that generates a guaranteed, basic support amount for each of the state’s school districts. After the funding level is established, officials measure each districts’ local ability to raise money, and this amount is subtracted from the guaranteed amount.  The state equalizes the remaining dollars.

According to the Nevada School Finance Study:

Each district’s guaranteed funding amount under the Plan is generated based on district-specific characteristics, not student characteristics. A separate basic support per pupil figure for each school district is calculated by NDE using a formula that considers a district’s relative differences in terms of cost of living, size, and the cost per pupil of administration and support services compared to the statewide average in each area. A wealth adjustment, based on each district’s ability to generate revenue in addition to the guaranteed level of funding, is also included to equalize the system.

While the Plan does not differentiate for student-specific differences, other funding streams (referred to as categorical streams) do provide funding for such students. Categorical funding streams include dollars for class-size reduction, career and technical education, English learners, and other programs.

Special education funding is also funded outside of the basic support amount. Funding for special education was a unit-based allocation prior to the 2016-17 school year when funds were distributed on a proportional basis to school districts and charter schools. Funding is capped at 13 percent of total pupil enrollment. Additionally, the state adopted a Special Education Contingency Fund to help provide resources for students with significant disabilities.

Las Vegas Democrat Brittney Miller is a freshman lawmaker and a teacher in the Clark County School District and spoke at the Red for Ed rally.

“We know that public education is the ladder to the American Dream,” Miller said.  “We know that public education access, free public education for every student is fundamental to our American values.

“I myself as an educator have over 40 kids in my classroom.  I myself am teaching off photocopies because we don’t have the necessary resources we need for our students.  I also am subject to excessive bureaucracy that impacts our creativity in instruction,” Miller said to loud approval.

Miller said education is more than a talking point for her and for many in the audience.

“Nevada teachers I share your hopes, your frustrations, your long hours and your stress. I’ve also felt the lack of support devaluing.  I share the financial obligations out of my own pocket to educate my students, just as you do to fund your classrooms.

“Moreover, and more importantly, I share your passion, your efforts, your energy, and your love for children, for learning, for public education and for Nevada.  Teachers, you haven’t failed us, the system has failed you,” Miller said.

With a Democratic governor and both chambers of the Legislature controlled by Democrats, Miller said the time was right for changing the way schools are funded in Nevada.

“The time is now.  Things must change.  We’re at a tipping point.  We have the leaders willing to have the tough conversations,” Miller said.

Ruben Murrillo Jr, president of the Nevada State Education Association was the master of ceremonies. 

“Elections have consequences, and this is a result of our involvement in elections,” Murillo said to wild applause and cheering. “We support legislators who support public education.”


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