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April 18, 2014

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Education:

Committee to recommend funding formula that would benefit Clark County schools

Northern Nevada lawmakers among those who agree more money should be allocated to districts with students in poverty and English language learners

Instead of relying on its decades-old way of dividing money between Nevada’s 17 school districts, the state should send more money to districts with students in poverty or who are learning English, a Legislative committee decided Tuesday.

A new funding formula, which has not yet been detailed and requires Legislative approval, could mean a windfall for the Clark County School District — as much as $69 million a year, under one formula — but lawmakers and administrators said any new proposal should be phased in as money became available to prevent further cuts to other school districts.

Southern Nevadans have long felt the state’s 45-year-old funding strategy has under-funded the Clark County School District compared with the rest of the state, and research by a consultant hired by the committee validated those concerns, said Joyce Haldeman, an associate superintendent at the Clark County School District.

The exact weight the state should give to each student in distributing funds won’t be determined until the Legislature meets in 2013. But under all the scenarios, the Clark County School District would receive more money than it currently does and the state’s 16 other school districts would receive less.

In broad terms, the committee, which included lawmakers from Northern Nevada, agreed to settle on the policy. Nevada is one of few states that doesn’t consider poverty or English language learners when it distributes money and under-funds special education students, according to a consultant hired by the committee.

“It’s not an us-versus-them thing,” said Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Committee to Study a New Method of Funding Public Schools. “It’s a recognition that there’s a need to distribute money in a fair and equitable way.”

But the comity will be harder to maintain when Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Legislature start talking about dollars.

Representatives from the Washoe County School District and the Carson City school superintendent made clear they could not support proposals that cut their budgets further.

Finding the money “is the big challenge,” said Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno. “Everyone can agree on a lot of things, assuming there’s money there to fund it.”

Brower said he supports Sandoval’s commitment to not cut education any further.

Asked if districts outside of Clark County should worry, Carson City School District Superintendent Richard Stokes said it’s too early to tell.

“It’s a great discussion that’s happening,” Stokes said. But “I personally don’t want to have to cut my budget any more.”

In one recommendation, the committee said the state should consider setting up a $12.5 million contingency fund to prevent cuts in Washoe County and the rural school districts.

Haldeman said Clark County does not want to hurt other districts. She said the district supports phasing in any new formula.

The committee paid American Institutes for Research $125,000 to conduct the study with money raised by the Clark County School District and private donors.

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