Weights & Vouchers
By: John Vellardita
With the close of the Nevada Legislative Session, it is important to take a moment to reflect on what happened before revisionists take pen to paper. First, important advances were made for public education specifically around the weighted funding formula issue. Second, school choice also advanced this Session; Vouchers were passed.
On November 15, 2016, one week after the election results, CCEA wrote, “We must be vigilant to insist that we have a Legislative Session of accomplishment. We must build upon the progress made in the 2015 Legislative Session and advance public education further. We must address the need for adequate funding going directly to our schools.”
On February 1, 2017, before the Nevada Legislative Session began CCEA stated, “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 what ultimately comes out of this debate will determine whether there is gridlock or accomplishment in this session.” Though there were several moments where a compromise came close to gridlock, in the end, four good leaders and a closer found common ground.
SB 178—the Weighted Funding bill addressed the issue of equitable and adequate funding to the underserved. Early on, the bill would not have moved at all with a 1.2 Billion dollar figure. CCEA stated that $1.2 billion was a non-starter and helped shape the discussion on adopting a flat rate value that would provide additional funding of $1,200 per student for the bottom 25% low proficient students who had been left behind under the categorical models of Zoom and Victory. This money will follow the student no matter what school or zip code they are in. Though we wanted more funds to be applied to SB178, we are pleased that significant advancements were made to address the equity issue for those students who were being left behind. This was the necessary first step to truly address the issue of equitable funding.
However, accomplishment this session did not come without compromise. Opportunity Scholarships were the compromise over the Education Savings Accounts. Despite the spin doctors’ claims that no public money will go to vouchers, it is very clear that Opportunity Scholarships are funded with business tax credits against the Modified Business Tax (MBT). The MBT taxes fund the general fund which in turn funds public education. The taxes will now be expanded to $33 million over the biennium, and hence, there will be $33 million less public funds for public education.
This Session ended with accomplishment. Accomplishment came with compromise. CCEA from the outset wanted a Session of accomplishment and supported the efforts of Democrat and Republican leadership and the Governor finding that solution. We supported the compromise.
In order to move the meter for Nevada’s public education system, we must continue to engage in good public education policy discussions not rhetorical grandstanding that smacks of partisanship. To that end, CCEA will continue to work with anyone, any party, any lawmaker when it comes to advancing public education in our State.