LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Nevada lawmakers on Wednesday discussed the $2 billion education budget Republican Governor Joe Lombardo is proposing.
If passed, the budget would inject much-needed funds into state schools at a time when Nevada ranks near the bottom in per-pupil funding.
Yet, a point of contention at Wednesday’s hearing is a change to the funding of the most vulnerable students.
The Nevada Department of Education no longer considers at-risk students as those who received free and reduced school lunches.
This decreases the population of at-risk students from 273,000 to 63,325.
“That still concerns me that, that there’s a large number of students, that may not be getting the funding, or might not be calculated properly in the funding formula,” Assemblyman Cameron Miller, D-District 7 said.
Lawmakers grilled state education officials over the revision to the funding formula. Democrats are the majority in both the assembly and senate.
“Some of those students got at-risk funding that will now not be getting at-risk funding because they won’t meet what the new definition is,” Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, D-District 1 said.
The issue is who is now considered an at-risk student in Nevada schools. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert said the previous definition was too broad.
“So, what we’re doing is we’re really narrowing in on those students that have the greatest need,” Ebert said.
These are some of the categories considered as at-risk: academics, attendance, behavior, and home and enrollment stability.
“These students identified, most likely will not earn a diploma,” Ebert said.
Ebert also said the number of at-risk students may be closer to 90,000 rather than 63,325 as some may be categorized as English Language Learners.
Under the budget proposal, students deemed at-risk will receive $2,584 in the fiscal year 2024. Currently, the per-pupil rate is $244.
“I think the issue that I’m having is that we say that we drive the dollars to the classroom, but we don’t exam what performance is in the classroom for those students,” State Sen. Dina Neal, D-District 4, said.
The state also changed how it calculates English Language Learners, increasing the per-pupil rate for the fiscal year 2024 to $4,307 from the current figure of $1,649.
Education leaders also acknowledged during the budget hearing that enrollment in state public schools continues to decline while it increases in charter schools.