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Nevada ranks last in school finance; state says data lags recent increases


by Clara Bates, Nevada Current
July 19, 2021

Nevada finds itself at the bottom of another good list, ranking last in the nation for the quality of K-12 school finance, according to a recent study.

Education Week, an education news nonprofit, gave Nevada a D-minus grade for overall school finance in a study released last month, which measured spending and equitability of spending distribution. Idaho had previously held the last-place title every year since 2010.

The bottom five states in terms of school finance quality are Oklahoma, Utah, Arizona, Idaho and Nevada. Nevada got the only D-minus grade.

New Jersey, New York, Wyoming, Maryland, and Rhode Island top the list.

The study examines spending on K-12 education and how funds are distributed among districts, using metrics like per-pupil expenditure, percent of total taxable resources spent on education, and disparities in spending across districts. The researchers used the most recently available data, from 2018.

Nevada received an F across the spending indicators.

Nevada’s per pupil expenditure in 2018 was $9,434, which is $4,200 below the national average. Vermont, the state with the highest per-pupil expenditure, spends $23,205. In Nevada, just 3% of students were in districts with per-pupil expenditures at or above the U.S. average.

Nevada spends less of its total taxable resources on education than the national average, the study found. Nevada spends 3.1% of total taxable resources on education and the average is 3.6%. The lowest is North Carolina, 2.7%, and the highest is New Jersey, 5.1%.

In terms of equity, Nevada was slightly below average, at 34th in the nation. Those measures included the difference in spending levels of the highest and lowest per-pupil spending districts and the differences in funding between property-poor districts and wealthy districts. The state had a slightly higher-than-average difference in spending between rich and poor areas, and a slightly lower-than-average difference in spending between districts. (Clark County School District is the largest in the state and fifth largest in the country, and is the lowest-spending school district in the state.)

Allegra Demerjian of Nevada Department of Education wrote in a statement that the rankings are based on lagged data, which doesn’t account for increased investments from the 2019 Legislative Session.

One reason spending has been so low is because Nevada has relied on an antiquated funding formula, which used decades-old spending data. A new funding formula, first passed in the 2019 Legislative session, will be implemented in the next two years. It is not yet clear how much the per-pupil spending will change under the new model. A state legislative commission concluded in April that Nevada would need to invest between $2.2 and $3.2 billion just to reach the national average per-pupil funding.

Another challenge to education spending has been building a revenue base. The Legislature’s commission on school funding recommended that the state raise property taxes and/or sales taxes to pay for increased educational investments. Nevada relied mostly on a regressive sales tax to fund K-12 education, according to a 2018 report.

“The Commission on School Funding is actively examining this issue and working together with statewide stakeholders for ongoing improvements and opportune revenue sources,” Demerjian said.

There is a windfall nationally in K-12 funding, due to Biden’s stimulus package, but that money won’t go directly to per-pupil expenditures.

The American Rescue Plan Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund gave $1.07 billion to Nevada. The Nevada Department of Education will receive $107 million in relief funding, and the 17 county school districts and State Public Charter School Authority have received $966 million through the American Rescue Plan.

“The Federal Relief Funding will not play into the per-pupil funding amount, as it is a one-time investment, and factoring this into our per-pupil funding would lead us to a funding cliff,” Demerjian said.

The funds are directed toward repairing educational shortfalls from the pandemic, including lost learning time for students. The state is crowdsourcing suggestions.

“The Nevada Department of Education is focusing on renewal and future-proofing our education system. Based on our ARP ESSER State Plan, which explains priorities for the emergency relief funding, the funds will go to several projects that build capacity and will support students for years to come,” Demerjian said.

The Ed Week finance study is the second in a series of three to come out this year. The first, out in January, ranked Nevada 49th in the nation for educational opportunities and advancement. The last, which will come out in September, will measure K-12 achievement. Nevada fared well on the achievement study last year, scoring in the top fifth.

Demerjian pointed out the high achievement ranking: “We often get a bad reputation as ‘50th in the nation,’ but several of the evaluation factors include funding, which is something we have traditionally ranked lower for.”

This story was originally published by Nevada Current. Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected] Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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