The final education budget adopted, in June 2015, by the Nevada Legislature for the 2015-2017 biennium does little to improve school funding overall and reduces most districts’ general operating budgets for the 2015-2016 school year, an analysis by Educate Nevada Now! (ENN!) shows.
Under the “Nevada Plan,” which is the state’s 1967 school funding formula still in effect, the general operating budget represents the amount of state and local funding available to each district to support the basic education program for all students. A key component of the general operating budget is the amount of state aid and local revenue allocated by the Legislature to each district, known as the Basic Support Guarantee (BSG). The BSG accounts for 75-80% of districts’ operating budgets.
An analysis of the budget adopted by the Legislature in June shows a significant decrease in per pupil BSG in the largest district in the state, the Clark County School District (CCSD), which serves about 322,000 children, over 70% of the state’s entire student population. CCSD expects to receive $5,512 per pupil, $15 less than the 2014-2015 school year. In Washoe County, the state’s second largest school district, funding remains nearly flat. And, some rural districts are also bracing for less per pupil funding in the coming school year.
In CCSD, the 2015-16 funding marks the first time in several years in which the BSG has been lower than the prior year. Until this year, the Legislature provided minimal increases in the BSG to help the district address increased enrollments and fixed costs, even during the years impacted by the Great Recession. Over the last five years, the BSG for CCSD increased from $5,035 to $5,527 per pupil, until this latest budget dropped the BSG to $5,512 per pupil.
As a result of the reduced BSG, increased fixed costs, and elimination of class size waivers, many Nevada school districts are anticipating a deficit in their general operating budgets. Based on its preliminary budget, CCSD is facing a budget shortfall of nearly $67 million. The anticipated budget gap in Washoe County is approximately $27 million. Several rural districts anticipate shortfalls as well.
The school districts will be revising their budgets in the coming months based on the Legislature’s final per pupil amounts, but many districts will likely find themselves struggling to cover significant gaps between available revenue and the cost of educational programs for students.
These operating budget deficits will leave districts with no alternative but to freeze teacher salaries, increase class size, and make painful cuts to teacher and support staffs, programs, and other essential resources. CCSD already faces a shortage of 2,600 teachers due to low wages and overcrowded classrooms and schools. The district is struggling to provide quality bilingual education to English language learners, a fast growing segment of its student population. Remedial interventions are unavailable for far too many at-risk students. Guidance counselors are in short supply.
The Nevada Legislature, in its final biennium budget, did appropriate certain “categorical” funds outside the general operating budget that districts either receive directly or must compete for, and are targeted to specific programs such as reading literacy and class-size reduction. These categorical funds, however, are limited in amount and restricted in use, and cannot be reallocated to address shortfalls in the district’s general operating budget.
“Upon reviewing and learning the impact of the legislatively approved budget, an analysis reveals there are still many opportunities to improve basic support funding, which lies at the core of the Nevada Plan formula,” said Stavan Corbett, ENN Outreach Coordinator. “School district deficits in the upcoming school year’s operating budgets mean reductions in foundational resources which are essential in giving all Nevada school children an adequate opportunity for success in school.”
Molly A. Hunter
Education Justice, Director
973-624-1815, x 19
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications