With the 81st legislative session around the corner, the need for the K-12 Commission on School Funding to finalize its recommendations is more urgent than ever. The last meeting of the year and second to last before the start of session is this Friday, the 18th at 9 a.m.
SB 543 (2019), which created the new Pupil Centered Funding Plan (PCFP), requires the commission to work out details to implement the new K-12 funding formula. As we noted in our last newsletter, this group of expert volunteers have accomplished a lot of work in the past year.
However, some of the most critical aspects of the formula have yet to be decided.
Important Pending Issues
The commission has yet to define and cost out an “optimal funding target,” which is the per-pupil funding levels they recommend for our public school students to be successful. Based on member remarks, defining optimal funding may take months or even years – and require another statewide study.
That said, the commission identified two benchmarks on the path to optimal funding – restoration of funds lost during the special legislative session and adequacy per the APA study (state mandated funding study).
While we would have liked to have a definition of optimal within the first year of the commission, we are encouraged knowing that APA’s adequacy recommendations are included in the benchmarks, as they contain a detailed costing out of school and district level resources.
With two solid funding recommendations identified, the commission can now begin developing recommendations for a plan to reach those funding targets. Per SB543, the commission is required to create a plan and recommendations to reach funding targets within ten years. This can include recommendations regarding specific revenue sources to meet the funding targets.
This is the logical next step for the commission, as these recommendations should be made available prior to the upcoming legislative session beginning early next year.
Despite the difficult economic situation the Covid crisis has created, or perhaps because of it, the time is now to begin staging a long-term plan that can put our state on a path towards success.
Is now the right time to implement the new funding formula?
Many have expressed serious concerns about implementing the formula in the midst of devastating budget cuts. Other lingering concerns unrelated to the current economic crisis continue to dissuade some from supporting the PCFP.
Regardless, the commission has decided to make an official recommendation about moving forward with implementation in the coming biennium. This agenda item will be considered at the meeting on Friday, December 18.
ENN understands the reservations with moving forward with full implementation, both because of budget cuts and fundamental problems with SB 543 itself. However, there are ways to more responsibly transition to the formula and build upon the positives associated with the PCFP. ENN urges the commission to:
Create and recommend a revenue plan to meet the first two defined benchmarks (Restoration and Adequacy) in time for the upcoming legislative session for representatives to consider.
Even though we find ourselves in a difficult economic situation, the time is now to begin planning a way out of this crisis and longstanding education funding issues. We are encouraged by the Commission’s commitment and hope they begin the process now of developing a plan to move Nevada in the right direction so that it can be discussed during the upcoming 81st legislative session.
Reconsider a more fair and equitable adequacy distribution model that works for all districts and does not hurt any students in the process.
Even prior to the crisis, fifteen out of seventeen counties were not receiving adequate funding per the APA study. The PCFP freezes the majority of districts funding levels, for potentially several years, without allowing them to receive any new funding to account for increased costs or enrollment growth. That means teachers in several districts will not be able to get raises for years, there will be no money for new books, technology or any improvements for several years, deteriorating the quality of education and resources at many school districts.
ENN recommended the adoption of the Illinois adequacy distribution modelduring the 2019 session as a way to move all underfunded counties towards adequacy without leaving any underfunded districts behind. With the prospect of falling even further behind with this recession, this alternate model is a more responsible and fairer way to grow into the PCFP.
The Illinois model provides a proportional amount of new or additional dollars based on each district’s distance from their adequacy target. In other words, the districts furthest away from their funding targets would get the larger proportion of new revenue while some funding will still be made available to other districts that are also considered underfunded. This growth model presumes good faith by lawmakers who have stated their intent to move towards adequacy versus simply reshuffling inadequate funding. This model would ensure no district received less funding than they currently do, and each district that is not currently receiving adequate funding will benefit from additional revenue down the road. This model works better for everyone instead of harming certain districts and students for years or possibly decades.
Delaying movement to true school-level weights until proper funding is available.
The effective weights (additional funding for students with unique needs) were abysmal before the current economic crisis, but the loss of funding, specifically SB178 dollars (meant to aid in the transition to weights) during the 2020 Special Session, has only made the situation worse.
Even before the recent special session cuts, there was insufficient funding available to ensure ZOOM and Victory students were unharmed during a transition to true weighted funding (where funding “follows the student” down to the individual school level, as is required under the PCFP’s weighted funding model). Spreading insufficient weighted funding to all English learner and at-risk students outside ZOOM or Victory schools would result in funding spread so thin that it becomes practically ineffective for those students and devastating to Zoom and Victory schools.
It is fair to say that the loss of SB 178 dollars and bleak economic outlook make a transition to school level weights in 2023 (as stated in SB 543) incredibly difficult and may potentially harm our most vulnerable students. ENN recommends extending the time in which districts have the discretion to continue operating Zoom and Victory schools beyond the two-year period allowed in SB543. We support a transition to weighted funding for all students in need, but recognize the need for flexibility in these unprecedented times.
Re-evaluate funding and programs to be included in the Restoration Funding Target in the event of additional cuts during the 2021 session.
The Restoration Funding Target seeks to avoid implementation of the formula in a worse situation than we found ourselves in pre-pandemic. For example, the target includes restoring funds that were initially expected to support weights, such as SB 178 funding lost during the special session.
We do not know how long a road we have to reach pre-pandemic funding levels, and unfortunately, we also do not know for certain if more funding will be cut from K-12. This may negatively impact implementation of the PCFP and its intent. For example, we do not know if districts will be held harmless at 2019-2020 funding levels as intended in SB 543. We do not know if other programs designed to support weights might be reduced or cut. With this in mind, we urge the Commission to consider including funding or programs lost during the 2021 session in the Restoration Funding Target to focus on honoring the original intent of the bill.
The PCFP was far from perfect upon passage, and the economic crisis has only exacerbated and laid bare its problems. However, the need for a more transparent and updated funding formula is critical. We can still move forward with the constructive elements of the new formula, while using this crisis as an opportunity to address the PCFP’s shortcomings and delay its problematic portions until we can responsibly ensure students are not harmed in the process. We must put students first and get this right.