By John Vellardita
The number one issue that will shape the discussion on education issues in Nevada during this Legislative Session will be ‘school choice’, and it is safe to say that media is focused on the narrative that lines have been drawn in the sand. However, it is equally safe to say that what ultimately comes out of this debate will determine whether there is gridlock or accomplishment in this session, especially in light of the current political climate.
The ultimate question is whether there can be Education Savings Accounts (ESA) that do not take away from public education that Democrats can support, and whether there are restrictions put on ESAs that Republicans can support?
Choice advocates want state money to fund education options of their choosing. The Nevada Supreme Court said the 2015 law was constitutional; however, struck it down because the funding came out of the Distributive School Account (DSA) account. Choice advocates have drawn a line in the sand on this issue.
Choice opponents say the State needs to continue to invest in public education and not take away money that could go to serve students in public schools. Choice opponents have also drawn a line in the sand on this issue.
However, like an elephant in the room, what has not been discussed is the topic of ‘adequate funding’.
Before any discussion about more money going into the private sector for school choice, there has to be an investment in Nevada’s public schools that meets the threshold of ‘adequate’ funding. How do we define ‘adequate’? Simple, students who have specific needs that require additional resources. Those needs are often referred to as Weights, i.e. students with special education (SPED) needs, poverty (FRL), English language learners (ELL), and gifted and talented students (GATE).
In the past two Nevada Legislative Sessions, Legislators under Governor Sandoval’s leadership began to address the adequacy issue by adopting categorical funding for specific programs that addressed the specific needs of students. Programs like Zoom, Victory, etc were passed. They were the ‘first step’ in the right direction. However, not all students of need benefit from these programs. If you are an ELL student but not in a Zoom School you will not have access to additional resources and programs to ensure you have an adequate education. Tens of thousands of students are left out of the categorical programs. The solution is to transition categorical programs to a Weighted Funding Formula.
The passage of Assembly Bill 394 requires that a Weighted Student Funding Formula be in place in the Clark County School District (CCSD) for the 2017-2018 school year. With the reorganization of the CCSD to a decentralized education delivery system, each school is a precinct led by school organization teams, made up of parents, teachers, the principal, support staff, and students, who now have control of their children’s education. They have “choices” they did not have before.
Any discussion about ‘school choice’ in this Legislative Session has to start and end with adopting a Weighted Funding Formula so that there is finally adequate funding following all students in the classroom regardless of building or zip code.