Washoe school district battles out-dated funding formula while developing plan
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Nevada school districts have had difficulties in crafting plans for next school year, which is made even harder with the state’s antiquated funding formula.
“In Nevada, we are one of the lowest funded states,” said Mickaela Tonking, Educate Nevada Now, data and advocacy director.
Up until the legislature updated the funding formula during their last session, Tonking said Nevada had the oldest funding system in the country.
“We base our funding off of prior year expenditures and then those are inflated,” Tonking said.
Even when taxes are passed, like the marijuana tax, the contribution from the legislature remains flat.
“When we make cuts, it takes us much longer to actually get back to where we were,” Tonking said. “So, we still aren’t quite at the dollar amount we were at before the 2008 recession.”
Tonking said most states fund schools based on the needs and goals of the school, so if a school district wants 25 students for every one teacher, the funding formula adjusts to make that happen.
Nevada also offers categorical grants for specific needs, such as funding for English learning. The problem with that is not every school gets the grant money, so one school could fund English learning and a school three blocks away can’t which Tonking said leads to inequity.
“So, districts were facing that problem even before COVID happened,” Tonking said.
Part of Washoe County School District’s plan includes in person learning for students who are in vulnerable groups, such as English learners, or students receiving special education.
Incline High School principal Andrew Yoxsimer said he’s been looking at ways to provide that in-person learning with limited teachers.
Although Incline HS has less students (346 students compared to the average 1,200 in the valley), they also have less teachers.
On top of that, Yoxsimer said out of the 30 teachers he has, several aren’t comfortable going back into the classroom. He said Incline Elementary School and Incline Middle School also have teachers not comfortable going back.
One of Yoxismer’s concerns is that in a hybrid model, the students and teachers won’t be able to keep up learning pace.
“At some point, we’ll have to do a lot of remediation,” Yoxsimer said. “I don’t know how we’re going to do that.”
Nevada is also one of the few states that won’t fund capital improvement projects, like repairing roofs or updating HVAC systems.
“That’s a big issue, when we’re talking about kids going back, we have really old buildings, and it’s really hard to space students out,” Tonking said. “And it’s really interesting what some of the ventilation is going to be like in some of the places just because we haven’t been able to maintain those buildings to the extent they needed to be maintained.”
Tonking said Nevada has one of the largest class sizes in the country, that the recommended ratio is 20-25-to-1 and the state averages 32-1.
One misconception people have is that schools were able to save money by doing distance learning in the spring.
“It doesn’t seem to be the case, because they’re still paying all of the staff, they’re still feeding all of the students, in some case, more than usual,” Tonking said. “So really, what they’re saving on is transportation, which isn’t much. And now, the problem is, when you start up again, especially with the hybrid model, it’s going to be a more expensive model because you have to make sure that every student has some form of technology,” Tonking said.
Incline schools were in a good position to quickly transition to distance learning in the spring because five years ago, the boosters raised money to get computers for every student.
However, Yoxismer said not every family has functioning wifi and so that is an issue they are going to have to address in the fall.
While CARES Act funding will help when it comes to personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, it can’t help fix the problems that already existed.
“Nevada took so much longer after the last recession to recover, we haven’t been able to hire the correct staff to deal with that,” Tonking said. “And now, I think it’s going to become even more exasperated given the pandemic.”
Despite all of the struggles, Yoxsimer believes the district is doing the best they can.
“This is going to be a year to roll with the punches, be flexible and help the students the best we can,” Yoxsimer said.
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