Las Vegas Sun

October 15, 2019

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Legislators hold first hearing on new education funding plan

CARSON CITY — One of the largest bills this legislative session — a complete overhaul of the state’s K-12 funding system, was heard by committee for the first time Tuesday evening.

Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson and chief majority whip, introduced the legislation — Senate Bill 543 — to the Senate Committee on Finance, stating that the change in population and demographics since the implementation of the Nevada Plan — the name for the state’s 52-year-old funding formula — means a new system is required.

“If we want to improve Nevada’s schools, it is critical that we move from the Nevada Plan as it presently stands to a modernized funding approach,” said Woodhouse, who chairs the finance committee.

At the hearing, Sen. Mo Denis, the Las Vegas Democrat who chairs the education committee and helped shape the new funding formula, drew attention to the fact that he was in elementary school when the Nevada Plan was implemented in 1967.

“Our state was a much different place when the Nevada Plan went into place than it is today,” he said.

The new plan, called the Pupil-Centered Funding Plan, would change the state’s funding system from categorical to weighted. For example, under the Zoom Schools program, the lowest-performing schools with the highest percentage of English-language learners get more money. This is “categorical” funding.

Under the proposed plan, students with further needs — like those who are disabled, at or near the poverty level, or learning English — would receive more per-pupil funding.

Jeremy Aguero, a principal analyst with Applied Analysis who helped craft the plan, said the new allocation model is necessary to better serve Nevada schools and students.

“We have to recognize the geographic diversity in our state,” Aguero said. “We are home to one of the largest school districts in the nation and many of the smallest school districts in the nation.”

The money for these allocations would flow through the State Education Fund, which would replace the current State Distributive School Account. As of now, school funding comes from a variety of locations, leading to a system that many have called overly complicated.

The bill also has a “hold-harmless” clause that would ensure that school districts get at least as much money annually as they did this year.

A newly created Commission on School Funding would be tasked with overseeing the implementation of the plan, tracking funds, and making recommendations to the Legislature.

Gov. Steve Sisolak released a statement on the bill shortly before the hearing. "I'd like to applaud the committee chair for introducing one of the most sweeping education reform bills Nevada has seen in over 50 years,” he said in the statement. “Everyone can agree that we must take bold steps to improve our education system, and that must start with addressing a decades-old formula that no longer meets the needs of our state. In the coming days, I look forward to working with the Legislature to review this bill, with the goal of ultimately taking an important step toward much-needed structural education reform."

The superintendents of both Clark County and Washoe County School Districts — Jesus Jara and Traci Davis — spoke out in favor of the measure. “I believe this is a step forward in the name of equity and adequacy,” Davis said.