Recently, CCSD held its second CCSD Budget Advisory (CBAC) meeting, which is co-chaired by Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, and ENN Director of Policy, Sylvia Lazos.
While this committee, convened by Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, focuses on CCSD’s budget crisis, Co-Chair Maggie Carlton invited an analyst from the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB) to give a presentation on education funding from the state, which provided details that are relevant for all Nevada school districts.
Here are five take-away points from the meeting:
- Education funding is complicated, and funding comes from many different pots, some of which are grant based or categorical, making it challenging for any school district to be able to plan long-term.
- Per pupil expenditures as reported by the state includes categorical funds, although not every student receives categorical aid. This funding has to be reauthorized every session.
- The Nevada Plan factors 2% cost of living increases for teachers, but uses data that does not reflect real salaries and typically falls short.
- There doesn’t seem to be a plan by the State to fully fund the costs of educating special education students, although most districts cover more than half of special ed costs from their general education budget. The current funding formula backs into existing funding levels that do not express real costs of special education.
- Even though taxpayers and legislators have approved new revenue sources for education over the years – such as the room tax increase and the recreational marijuana tax – how much the state appropriates to fund education has not increased accordingly.
Did you know that the per-pupil funding calculation advertised by the state includes funds that are not guaranteed year-to-year, and often restricted to only some students and for limited uses? These funds, called categoricals, have to be reauthorized every legislative session and thus cannot be relied on for the long-term by school districts. If political leadership suddenly decides they don’t want to reauthorize these funds, some programs and services available to districts may abruptly end. Furthermore, it’s misleading to includes categoricals into a per-pupil calculation, since much of the funds are limited – to target certain students, schools, grades, and for certain uses. Additionally, although not mentioned in the meeting, categorical funds are not provided through a model that makes certain that funding distributed to every Nevada school district is reasonably equal.
Expenses vs Appropriations
Most recent state increases in education funding have come through categorical appropriations. These targeted investments in programs aimed at improving Nevada’s overall education performance, have had positive results. However, the “basic support guarantee,” or Nevada Plan, which is the amount that the Nevada Legislature deems sufficient to fund each Nevada student has been static. Since the recession, school districts have faced increasing costs, including employee costs that far outstrip the Nevada Plan’s 2% “roll-up” factor for teacher salaries, and have had to cover increasing special education costs not fully funded by the state.
As reported by the Legislative Counsel Bureau, the Nevada Plan factors a 2% cost of living increase for teacher salaries. Teacher salaries and fringe benefits are set at an average for the entire state ($76,908), however, CCSD average teacher costs are higher at $81,000.
Special Education Costs
In 2017, the state budget appropriated around $180 million for ALL Nevada’s special education students. Yet, districts’ actual costs for special education were in excess of $400 million for all Nevada students. There appeared to be a misconception that by providing a basic support guarantee (or per-pupil fund) for each special education student that would be sufficient. However, this does not account for the increased costs of providing resources for special education students, and the ever-increasing population of students identified as such (12% of students in CCSD). Special education costs mostly consist of services required over and above classroom instruction, such as speech therapy, tutoring, a special ed aide. While the LCB analyst noted that the Legislature appropriated a $30 million increase in the 2017-19 state biennium budget for special education, this increase falls short of the more than $400 million that schools all over Nevada have had to cover from their general budget to provide resources for special education children. When the state does not fully fund special education needs, districts end up having to provide less resources for general education students. This is part of the reason why parents are seeing ever-ballooning class sizes in grades 4-12.
Tax Dollars Meant For Education Increases
The biggest eye-opener is that funds from initiatives brought forward by the people to increase education funding, such as the marijuana tax ballot initiative passed in 2016 and the Room Tax initiative from 2009, did not increase funds for education as was intended by the voters. As the recreational marijuana tax and room tax are transferred into the education DSA (state education budget) account, the state decreases other contributions from its general fund, essentially leaving funding flat. The LCB’s table (page 9) shows that education funding has become a zero-sum game, new revenue funded by Nevada taxpayers under the premise that it would increase education funding has not increased the overall amount that the state appropriates for education. In other words, the taxes deemed to increase or supplement education funding have so far been used instead to supplant other contributions. This is especially egregious considering the Room Tax initiative expressly mandated the new revenue supplement school funding, which has never happened since the initiative passed seven years ago.
“They are taking money meant for education and balancing the state budget on the backs of children,“ said Jenn Blackhurst, president for parent advocacy group, H.O.P.E. (Honoring Our Public Education). “This is an affront to parents, many of whom do their part and volunteer their own time and resources to support our children’s schools.”
As Superintendent Skorkowsky has stated, lack of revenue increases for basic funding for education is a key reason for CCSD’s budget shortfall, and these same conditions are also impacting Washoe and other districts.
It’s concerning that we are just now hearing these explanations from the District. Many more stakeholders now understand that static education budgets have meant that CCSD and other school districts are having trouble keeping up with increasing costs. Teachers, staff, other employees and parents deserved to know that these challenges were on the horizon, even if it meant ruffling a few feathers. We hope that bringing this information to the public will help re-establish trust, and confidence in legislative and school district leadership.
The CBAC will continue to ask questions in its next meeting in January 2018, and have this very important dialogue in public to hold our elected officials and district leaders accountable. Please find here CCSD’s answers to questions from CBAC from the Sept. 22, 2017, meeting.