Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2019

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CCSD’s Jara: ‘It’s OK that some kids cost more to educate’

UNLV education summit

Yvonne Gonzalez / Las Vegas Sun

Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara speaks to teachers, public officials and education experts at UNLV’s annual Summit on Nevada Education on December 3, 2018.

Lawmakers are looking to deliver on years of discussions and demands from educators that Nevada update its education funding formula, which has been in place since 1967.

The state’s funding formula was created when Nevada was less diverse than it is today, Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara said Monday during UNLV’s annual Summit on Education. The summit brought teachers, public officials and education experts together to discuss priorities for education.

“It’s OK that some kids cost more to educate,” Jara said. “It’s not an excuse, it’s the reality.”

Weighted funding would put more money toward certain students, like those with disabilities, gifted and talented students, children from low-income families and English language learners. The state has taken some steps to better fund these students’ needs, through categorical funding and other programs, but Jara said that only Nebraska has a similar education funding system in place.

“We have to update our funding formula,” Jara said, to applause. “… Some of the things that we have been trying to do, and I appreciate the effort, it’s really dancing around the edges.”

He said the state uses categoricals to try and stretch dollars, and the district was reorganized to decentralize certain services and place them in the hands of school principals, but funding has stayed the same.

“We’ve made technical changes and tried to do the adaptive work, and it hasn’t worked,” he said. “It’s time that we invest in the work for our children.”

CCSD teacher Angie Sullivan said she hears great ideas to improve Nevada education every year at the summit, but officials need to find the funding. She said she supports Jara’s ideas, but worries about where the money will come from.

“I need the grown-ups in this room to pay the bills,” she said.

Categorical funds, Victory and Zoom schools help many but not all of these students, and a weighted formula would capture more students and help ensure equal support for students in each weighted demographic, said Democratic Sen. Mo Denis, who was one of several lawmakers at the summit. Zoom schools receive additional state money and resources to help students who don't speak English.

Denis sponsored Senate Bill 178 in 2017 to set up a temporary weighted funding formula. He said the Nevada Plan needs to be replaced with a model that includes weights for certain students.

“The focus is going to be on replacing the Nevada Plan, which will include weighted funding in there,” Denis said. “The emphasis is not on increasing the amount of money, but how we allocate the money. We have to fix that first before we could even talk about the other stuff.”

A new study, updating years-old research, shows it would cost billions of dollars to raise base funding to adequate levels and implement a weighted funding formula. Denis said lawmakers could act this session on some of the recommendations in the report, conducted by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, in partnership with consultants Education Commission of the States and Picus Odden and Associates.

The new report could help lawmakers finally pass a new school funding formula after years of discussions, Denis said. Work over the last eight to 10 years on Zoom and Victory schools have helped give the state an idea of what’s working, he said, and all the data and research now available makes this the time to act on a new formula.

“Normally when we’re in session, everybody always says we have to do a study to figure out what it costs,” Denis said. “We already have that. That’s what we did this interim, and we’ve actually done it twice now.”

The report recommends increasing base funding per pupil from $5,387 to $9,238, and a weighted funding formula that puts another $2,771 toward at-risk students,$2,994 to $4,619 for English learners, and $6,587 to $10,162 per special education student.

It would take another $3 to $4 billion to get to where the report says the state should be, Denis said. A successful schools model would look to spending and practices on campuses that are hitting education goals and bringing other schools up to that level, Denis said.

“The goal is going to be to update the formula, and then set a plan for how do we get to that as far as increasing the funding amounts,” Denis said.