LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — As the Nevada Legislature kicks off its 120-day session, the subject at the forefront of conversation: education.
This as Governor Steve Sisolak made the New Nevada Plan a focus of his agenda outlined in the State of the State address.
That plan includes an often discussed topic among lawmakers and education leaders in Nevada, a move to a weighted funding formula. This as many of those tasked with deciding the future of education funding highlight the half century that has passed since the basis of the current formula was written.
"I was a first grader at Robert E. Lake in 1967 when the Nevada Plan was implemented, and it has been tweaked throughout the years," Democratic State Senator Mo Denis said.
Although he acknowledges the funding formula laid out in the Nevada Plan is one of the most equitable in the country, Denis said it doesn't make sense anymore because of the growing diversity of the state.
The chair of the Senate Education Committee is pushing for a New Nevada Plan that would use a weighted formula for schools.
This as both Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged English Language Learners, Special Education students and GATE students all need more resources than the average students.
A weighted funding formula uses multipliers for those classifications on top of a base student allotment to fund school districts.
"We know that those cost more, but currently we fund them all the same," Denis said.
Under the current funding model, every student regardless of need is allotted the same per pupil figure.
To compensate for the extra need, lawmakers in the past have created programs for schools in low-income areas or with high concentrations of English language learners and provided extra funding to those schools. That funding is also called categorical funding.
Education advocates including former Republican State Senate candidate Byron Brooks say categorical funding is a better option at this point because the money goes straight to the schools.
"In a weighted formula, the money comes from the state to the district to the school. In a categorical formula, the money comes straight from the state to the school," Brooks said. "We have a history of problems in the district with where money is being spent."
Denis said the weighted formula would provide transparency for principals and parents because the funding of each school would be easily calculated using the student rosters.
"One of the things people are always talking about is they want to know how much money is being spent at their school. Right now for the district to do that is very difficult," Denis said. "Under this new plan, you will be able to look because you'll how many kids you have that have those needs, and you will know what the base amount is and what the multiplier is."
Brooks maintains the categorical funding mechanism gives the state a better ability to track the success of those extra funds because it goes directly to schools, instead of a shared pool of money that is distributed by the district.
"There is nothing really set for accountability when it comes to those weighted formulas," Brooks said.
Another concern raised by critics of the move to a weighted funding formula is the potential loss of funding for some of the schools which receive categorical funding, something Denis acknowledges would have to be discussed as they work through the new plan.
"So if under this scenario they get less we have to figure out a way to bring that up with bridge funding or what we call hold harmless," Denis said.
Although Denis said the hard work of crafting the plan has already been done, parents, students, and teachers will have plenty of opportunities to weigh in on the plan as the legislature gets to work over the next 119 days.