What States Can Learn from Nevada’s Student-Based Budgeting

Published June 16, 2017

Nevada’s Clark County School District (CSSD)—containing 357 schools—is the fifth largest school district in the country. Until recently, these schools were governed by a centralized authority. In May 2017, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a bill to reorganize the school district, giving principals and teachers decision-making authority.

According to Molly Davis of the Reason Foundation, “The funding of each school precinct [in CSSD], under this new framework, will be systematically better because the amount each school receives will be based on the number of enrolled students. A school’s allocated funding amount takes into account every pupil, and will include additional weighted funds for students who are low-income, English Language Learners or have a disability. This guarantees that the money a school receives will effectively be for each student, based on their individual needs.”

After two years of deliberations, Republicans and Democrats in Nevada worked together to pass legislation, which allows for a local organizational team including teachers, staff members, and parents. This team, along with the school’s principal, will make budgeting decisions. These new measures will begin in the 2017-18 school year.

The Nevada legislature is not the only government to propose student-based budgeting. An August 2016 proposal by the US Department of Education provides four ways for districts to demonstrate compliance with the funds-based requirement of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). One of these ways involves creating a weighted student funding formula.

“The language approved by the commission, passed with unanimous bipartisan support, puts the decisions that have an immediate impact in our classrooms directly in the hands of parents, teachers and principals, which is where it belongs,” Sandoval said regarding the district’s reorganization.

The reforms do not decentralize control of salaries and benefits of school employees, payroll, and accounting. According to Davis, “The plan should introduce some much-needed transparency in how school capital is allocated, and will account for students and their needs better than under the status quo. Despite the plan’s room for improvement, Clark County students will hopefully reap the benefits of more decentralized decision-making in the near future.”

According to the Reason Foundation’s Student-Based Budgeting Handbook, the United States is “in a transition period, moving from funding institutions to funding students.” During this transition period, other states and school districts should follow Nevada’s example by implementing student-based funding and decentralized control.

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