Lifting the Bottom Can Help Raise Nevada’s Public Education System

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By: John Vellardita

The 2017 Legislature has the opportunity to make significant improvements to k-12 education funding by developing a model that puts our state on track to a weighted funding formula. Full implementation of a weighted funding program is not realistic in this session. So what’s the transition plan?

Targeting low proficient ‘at risk’ students has to be the North Star. Too many of these vulnerable students are currently being left behind. SB 178 needs to specifically address providing funds and meaningful program and services for those students. Identifying effective intervention programs that have accountability around student outcomes is sound policy. We need to make sure dollars that are spent to educate kids really do educate kids.

When SB 178 was first introduced, CCEA advocated targeting at risk students that are not being served by the categorical programs because they are not in a zoom or victory building. We said the transition model should be a flat value added to the current per pupil funding level. We also said that that money should follow the student regardless of what school they are in. That the funding should pay for a service that could clearly produce outcomes and where accountability was in place to ensure those results were met. We said that we needed close to $200 million to fund this approach. And we said the current categorical programs of zoom and victory should remain in place but any new money should address those students left behind, something Governor Sandoval also spoke in support of.

Categoricals were a good step in the right direction. They are succeeding in helping students who have been in zoom and victory schools. They help because one simple formula- those buildings get additional resources to institute intervention programs that help educate those students. They have proven results and accountability measures. Unfortunately, the categorical model leaves too many students behind with those same needs and there is not enough funding to put those same programs in every building.  Accordingly, we now have to focus on those kids left behind.

Opponents of this approach will argue that we should put all money into zoom and victory and expand the building model. The problem is that this still leaves too many kids behind; almost 48,000 low proficient students in Clark County will be left out of that approach. How is that fair to them? This undoubtedly creates a two class system of education i.e. those who are in zoom and those who are left out. Legislation passed this session has to be focused on a transition where we are best positioned to have a weighted funding formula that adequately funds the education needs of all Nevada students. SB 178 is the legislation that will get us there.

 In a recent editorial, Steve Sebelius* (click here to read) stated that student achievement will not simply increase as a result of the reorganization of the school district but “depends on the proper implementation of a weighted funding formula.” SB 178 is the necessary next step in ensuring the fifth largest school district has the resources to properly address the needs of the most ‘at risk’ students where the categorical programs and the current per pupil funding allocation falls short.

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