Chair: School funding should flow equally for all students in waterfall


Nevada Commission on School Funding chair Karlene McCormick-Lee says she worries as the conversations continue on the Pupil Centered Funding Plan, the proposed K-12 funding formula to replace the Nevada Plan, the public will look at the dollars as a “win/loss.”

“It shouldn’t be a pie to cut up where you only get a third of a piece,” she said. “Every child has a certain amount of dollars to help them be successful.”

Members mulled over again recently on how to narrow a definition of “optimal funding” but has brought in the help of consulting firm Profound Knowledge Resources, Inc., based in Eden Prairie, Minn. Susan Leddick, an expert in organization design and a former high school teacher and college administrator, formerly assisted school districts with their organizational needs and began helping Nevada’s commission with drafting a more precise characterization of optimal funding. The commission previously said adequacy, as a standard, could be considered sufficient, but was still seeking to define what optimal meant according to Senate Bill 543.

But determining how much funding it requires to take the state from being “restored” to adequate and finally to optimal remains up for debate.

Member Mark Mathers, Washoe County School District’s chief financial officer, raised a concern that it would take Nevada years to recover from being restored to adequate.

“If many school districts are held in a hold harmless state, we actually fall behind,” Mathers said. “We’re held to a fixed amount based on 2020 levels, and to me, that’s technically restored in fiscal year 2020, but in fiscal year 2025, at restored, we’ve fallen behind.”

From the Nevada Plan that drew from 80 different sources into the redesign of the proposed Pupil Centered Funding Plan, which for now is compared to a waterfall for various services, where the formula is combining these sources for needs for English language learners, at-risk students, nutrition services and all the various departments districts require to run. The CSF is working out the impacts and searching for the mechanisms it would take for both the next two to three years while envisioning long-term impacts for the next decade for state and federal dollars.

Chair Karlene McCormick-Lee is cautious that the group’s goals don’t become overly ambitious in making its recommendations before the session starts.

“You can’t have it so aspirational and so esoteric, you can’t put a number to it,” she said.

McCormick-Lee said education funding shouldn’t be a pie to splice up between different student populations, but there are so many requests for ELL or special education students, at-risk populations or Gifted and Talented Education programs, and she said it’s important that districts “aren’t robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Special education funding also by now has been removed from the Pupil Centered Funding Plan due to its unique considerations and maintenance of effort requirements. Committee member Andrew Feuling, Carson City School District chief financial officer, said the MOE, or the obligation that a district not spend less on a program or service than it has from a prior year, for special education has presented a number of problems in Nevada historically because it was not based on the number of students but rather the expected staff districts had to have available.

“It seems that shouldn’t matter too much, but it does,” Feuling said. “It’s all those historical pieces that make it complicated, and if you plug that into the formula, (districts) really struggle in meeting the effort, and we all want to avoid that. So we decided to pull (special education) out.”

McCormick-Lee said by now she hasn’t felt there has been enough discussion on how the formula would actually work, much talk has been around how funding would move from place to place once it’s allocated. But in December and in preparation for the start of the 2021 session, she said members will start to re-examine the recommendations previously submitted to Gov. Steve Sisolak in July.

“I hope as they (the public) hear all of this, they see 11 members that are advocates for children and for teachers and adults we have in the buildings because education is a people business,” McCormick-Lee said.

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