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March 20, 2014

Where the State Falls Down on the Job and How to Fix It

Nevada's school funding system earns F's in the recently released 3rd edition of "Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card." Because the state distributes aid unfairly and fails to use a reasonable amount of its economic capacity to support its public schools, Nevada's funding system ranks among the worst in the U.S.

The State needs to design and implement a new school funding system that provides the opportunity to learn to all students.

On the National Report Card, the state receives an "F" in funding distribution, which measures the extent to which the state's funding system is structured so that higher poverty districts receive more aid than lower poverty districts. In Nevada, the pattern is actually regressive with higher poverty districts receiving, on average, only about 69 cents for each dollar their wealthier counterparts receive. Such a skewed funding system thwarts efforts to improve achievement and close achievement gaps.

Nevada receives another "F" for state fiscal effort, measured as the proportion of the state's economic productivity that is spent on education. Nevada's ranking dropped this year. Furthermore, the state's overall funding levels are below average compared to other states, when adjusted for regional wages, economies of scale, and other factors.

Nevada will need to increase "effort" if it is to improve funding distribution and raise the overall funding level enough to support student achievement. For example, the state funds only a few small pilot programs for students learning English, even though 19% of Nevada students are English learners.

Stable and Equitable Funding Is Essential

First issued in 2010, the National Report Card is built on the principle that predictable, stable and equitable state systems of school funding are the essential precondition for the delivery of a high-quality education. Without this foundation, efforts to improve the nation's schools will be less productive and unsustainable. To improve on the condition and performance of schools, states need to implement systems that provide sufficient funding that is fairly distributed to account for the needs of students, especially low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

The Report Card evaluates states on four separate, but interrelated, fairness indicators---funding level, funding distribution, state fiscal effort, and public school coverage.

Like most rural states, Nevada is above average on coverage, which examines the share of school-aged children who attend public schools and compares the median household income of those children with the income levels of families who do not use public schools. Only about 8% of Nevada school children attend nonpublic schools, a rate lower than most other states. However, the income disparity between public and nonpublic school households is high, with nonpublic households earning almost twice that of public school households.

The National Report Card is coauthored by Dr. Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education; David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center (ELC); and Dr. Danielle Farrie, Research Director for ELC.

Related Story:
Latest Race to the Top Grants Go to States at Bottom on School Funding Equity
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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