Report: Nevada Needs School Funding Formula Update

Published September 18, 2012

Nevada’s school funding formula was last altered in 1967, and since then the state’s population has shifted so much the formula has become inequitable, according to a new report.

In a American Institutes for Research report presented to Nevada lawmakers in August, researchers recommend several actions to improve the state’s education funding formula. These include adjusting for impoverished children and English language learners and clarifying special-needs student funding.

Nevada was primarily rural and homogeneous in 1967, and is no longer, the study notes.

Clark County would receive a funding boost if the report recommendations are enacted, said Geoff Lawrence, the Nevada Policy Research Institute’s deputy policy director. The county comprises a majority of the state’s students and is the fifth largest U.S. school district.

“I don’t expect K-12 funding to grow in the next budget cycle,” Lawrence said.

Key Findings, Recommendations
Drawing on data from school districts across the country, the authors developed 13 recommendations, which focused on three areas: state K-12 education funding, special education, and general reforms.

“The most central drivers of cost are student needs, district size and remoteness, and the cost of hiring and retaining comparable staff across different labor markets,” said report coauthor Jesse Levin. “All three of these are going to affect the cost of providing a similar educational opportunity to students with different circumstances.”

The report suggests reexamining student enrollment to determine teacher allotments.

Though most states adjust funding for students in poverty and English language learners, Nevada does not. The report also found no relationship between how much a district spent per special education student and the percent of such students in the district.

Legislative Response
Though adjustments for low-income students, English learners, and special education garnered more press attention, the authors maintained all their recommendations are important.

Though Nevada’s Department of Education is reviewing the report’s findings, developing immediate legislative priorities is premature, said Deborah Cunningham, a DOE deputy superintendent.

“We will proceed to develop thoughtful responses to each of the recommendations, implementing those that we can under our own authority and proposing to the executive and legislature those that require their action,” Cunningham said.   

Taking Action
The report was endorsed by its reviewing legislative panel and has been positively received by policymakers, but financial strain may make some recommendations difficult to enact this year, Cunningham said.

“We will certainly move to document the existing funding system, which was one of the first recommendations,” Cunningham said. “We will also seek advice from key education stakeholders.”

It is crucial that funding follows individual students, said Lisa Snell, director of education and child welfare for the Reason Foundation.

“Funding at the state level often washes out at the district level,” she said. “It just needs to be super-transparent.”

“We’re not here to dictate what policy should be, but we can definitely give a good picture of how each alternative funding adjustment scenario would play out across Nevada’s districts,” Levin said.


Learn more:
“Comparing District Achievement to Improve Decision Making in Clark County, Nevada,” American Institutes for Research, August 2012:

Image by Miss Shari.