Las Vegas Sun

August 30, 2015

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Sun Editorial:

Bringing parity

Lawmakers need to change the way Nevada funds K-12 schools

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By now, lawmakers should see the problems in the way Nevada funds public education given that they have been evident for years. Nevada long has been near the bottom in the nation for the amount of money spent per pupil.

Not only does the state spend less, it also distributes money inequitably. And that’s not just the grumblings of Clark County, where people long have complained about the state’s funding formula for K-12 schools. That’s the finding of the American Institutes for Research, a nonpartisan group that presented a study for a legislative panel studying the issue.

As David McGrath Schwartz and Cy Ryan reported in the Sun, the study notes that Nevada favors rural schools over those in Clark County. The study said Clark County consistently receives less than other counties, last year being given $5,068 per student. Tiny Esmeralda County, which has an estimated population of 775 people, received the most in the state: $17,508 per pupil.

In the funding formula, the state considers how much tax money the counties generate, then helps small and remote counties that don’t have a significant tax base. The study said the formula “is an elegantly designed funding mechanism suitable for an essentially homogenous rural state.”

Nevada is anything but a homogenous rural state. More than 1.9 million of the state’s 2.7 million people live in Clark County.

The original version of the funding formula was passed in 1967, and although it has been tweaked over the years, it hasn’t changed to keep up with the state’s growth.

Teresa Jordan, professor emeritus of UNLV, worked on the study and called it outdated. She said that under it, “the less wealthy get more funds and the wealthy get less.”

The study ran into criticism from lawmakers and officials outside of Southern Nevada.

Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, who serves on the committee, tried to dismiss the study, saying its conclusion, which suggests changing the funding formula, was “no surprise” because Clark County helped raise money to pay for the study.

Please. The conclusion was no surprise not because of who funded the study but because it was so evident and has been for years.

But lawmakers in other parts of the state like the status quo, and why wouldn’t they?

Clark County subsidizes education, and other services, for the rest of the state. It is seen as Nevada’s cash cow, and it’s easier to take from Southern Nevada than raise revenue elsewhere.

Lawmakers need to take a close look at the study and the way they’ve been funding K-12 education, not only in the amounts they’re spending but how they’re distributing it.

That’s not to say that Clark County shouldn’t help the other counties, but there has to be greater parity than now exists. This isn’t a matter of Clark County against other parts of the state; it’s a matter of sound policy.

The Legislature has to do right for students across the state, and with roughly 7 of 10 students in Clark County, short-changing Southern Nevada means short-changing the state.

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