Monday, January 14, 2013

The Right Way to Fix Education Funding Formulae

How many times have we heard the complaints about Nevada shortchanging our own kids? And how many times have we specifically heard the complaints about Nevada shortchanging its most populous county, the place where over 70% of our people live and where about 80% of the state's tax revenue is collected? All too often, we hear rumors of solutions brewing in Carson City. But this time, some there are actually determined to fix both problems.

But of course, there's a catch. Not everyone seems determine to solve both problems.

Democratic leaders have said achieving “funding equity” is their top priority. Technically, that means ditching the decades-old funding formula that favors sparsely populated counties in favor of a “weighted funding formula” that directs more funding to districts with large populations of students in poverty, learning English as a second language or in gifted and talented programs.

In reality, that means diverting state funding from Washoe and rural counties to Clark County — which has been historically underfunded on a per-pupil basis.

Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said achieving funding equity is key to the rest of the Democrats’ education initiatives — including reduced class sizes, expanded full-day kindergarten and creating a pre-kindergarten program for at-risk students.

“Our kids are being disadvantaged in Clark County as opposed to everywhere else in the state,” Denis said. “We really need to look at that and do what is best for all of our kids, which includes Clark County.”

Nevada is one of just 14 states that doesn't consider poor students in its school funding formulae. And Nevada is one of only 3 states that doesn't consider English language learners in its school funding formulae. This obviously puts Clark County at a huge disadvantage. And that disadvantage is only worsened when taking into account the late Bill Raggio and his uncanny ability to find money for Northern Nevada schools... But often at Southern Nevada's expense.

There's often been talk of changing the funding formulae. But now that the balance of power in the Legislature has finally shifted to the south, it's now getting more attention.

But unless it's matched with progressive tax reform, it's likely doomed to fail. And here's why. The first consultant hired by the Legislature to examine funding formulae reform found that under an otherwise "status quo" budget, Clark County schools stand to receive 6% more funding if the formulae are changed... But Washoe County stands to loss 2%, and Eureka County loses almost half of its entire funding!

While Clark County schools desperately need their fair share of public funds, no one really benefits if that comes at the expense of the rest of the state. While Washoe County schools are better funded than Clark's, it's not as if Washoe schools are "rich". They can't afford to be cut.

Ultimately, Nevada needs more revenue to ensure that all our schools are properly funded. It's ridiculous to cause a "beggar thy neighbor" situation instead of taking a comprehensive approach to improve all Nevada schools. Instead, we can find the revenue to fund Southern Nevada schools without starving the North by simply cutting back on the corporate welfare in our tax code. But will enough folks in Carson City see what's obvious to us? That remains to be seen.


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