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Clark County School District must undergo a massive reorganization as set by the state’s Legislature in 2015.
But CCSD has filed a lawsuit against the state, saying essentially that this was an unfunded mandate.
A key part of that is the issue of weighted funding – in other words, some students – such as special needs or gifted and talented – need more per-pupil funding than others.
The legislature punted the implementation of a weighted funding formula to 2021, but school reorganization is happening now.
State Sen. Joyce Woodhouse is the chair of the senate finance committee and the vice-chair of the senate education committee. She is also a veteran of the Clark County School District.
According to Woodhouse, under the reorganization plan the money follows the student, which could cause an huge inequality in schools.
"Because the reorganization is based on the fact that the funds that are identified per student follow that child," she explained, "If school 'X' has a larger amount of students who are special ed, for example, they will get more money.”
While on the surface that might seem workable, Sylvia Lazos, the policy director for Educate Nevada Now, explained it could hurt schools that are currently doing well.
“It would cause great pain in Clark County to have weights without additional money,” she said.
Lazos gave an real world example of what could happen if the state doesn't provide more money to execute weighted funding.
"You would have a Coronado High School take a hit of between a half a million dollars and a $1 million and you would take that money and transfer it over - let's say - $50,000 to Ronnow Elementary in this neighborhood so that they could get - let's say one half-time specialist."
Essentially, she said if the district has to implement the funding formula how it is now, 5 Star schools could be underfunded with little benefit for the 1 to 2 Star schools that are getting the money shifted their way.
Part of the problem, both Lazos and Woodhouse say is the original funding structure on which funding in the state is determined.
“The Nevada Plan was developed in 1967 with a few tweaks along the way but not substantive ones,” Woodhouse explained.
In 2014, Woodhouse and several other lawmakers came up with an updated funding formula that gave more money to students with special needs, were English language learners and those living in poverty. The Legislature added Gifted and Academically Talented Education or GATE students in 2015.
Lazos said because the funding formula structure is 60 years old and the new formula won't be implemented for several more years the school district is using general fund money to pay for special education students, who by law must be provided with services.
"For school districts to comply, they have to spend a certain amount of money. They have to spend close to $400 million, but the state is not fully funding that need and that means that a school district is going to take 10 to 15 percent of the general budget for all kids to be able to comply just with that special population."
She believes the way the Nevada Department of Education plans for solving the issues are problematic in two ways: First: the weighted funding formulas it has suggested does not go far enough to address the needs of children and Second: the money it has suggested to fund special education falls short by $350 million
I should note that we asked Nevada Department of Education superintendent Steve Canavero to be on with us today. He declined BECAUSE of the CCSD lawsuit, which was partly filed against him. He has promised to come on the show as soon as the lawsuit is not an issue.
Woodhouse said in the upcoming legislative session she and her colleagues will be looking at these issues, going through the governor's budget and deciding what can be done.
"It is our responsibility to look at it - the entire budget," she said, "We've got education, we've got health and human services, we've got the aging. There are so many issues and we have to weigh it all."
Lazos said it is up to the Legislature to decide what is going to be "sufficient funding for education."
"But at the end of the day, we as a people need to ask our representatives to do the job that they should do and to give every child an opportunity to have that education."
State Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, chair of the senate finance committee, and vice-chair of the senate education committee; Sylvia Lazos, policy director for Educate Nevada Now, powered by the Rogers Foundation
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