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Education Funding Among Top Concerns For Washoe County Schools

Exterior of the Washoe County School District administration building.
Paul Boger
KUNR Public Radio
The Nevada legislature is back in session and may make decisions that impact the Washoe County School District. One of the largest issues regarding the WCSD is funding in the face of budget shortfalls.

The Washoe County school board recently entertained the idea of cutting the district's gifted and talented program. With Nevada's tax revenues continuing to languish because of the pandemic, the state's public education system is facing a serious budget crunch. To get a sense of how the legislative session may impact Northern Nevada's largest school district, KUNR's Paul Boger spoke with Lindsay Anderson, the district's government affairs director, at a recent school board meeting.

Paul Boger: So, we are quickly approaching the start of the session. You just laid out what are some of the legislative priorities for the school district as we head into the session. Can you sum up what those priorities are for us at this point?

Lindsay Anderson: Absolutely. The Washoe County School District's number one priority is always going to be more resources for students. So, our number one priority is around funding. That's even more complicated this session as the state looks to implement a new funding formula. So the amount of funding and the way it gets to us is going to be a top priority for the district.

Then, obviously, things that address safety. Whether that's health and safety [or] school safety during a pandemic, it's the number one priority. We want kids back in school as soon as possible. So we are going to need additional resources to make that happen and address the learning loss that has taken place. Academic supports for students as we go forward, additional access to funds for summer school, bridge learning and opportunities for kids to catch up, once we can get them back into a school building.

Boger: Let's go ahead and back up a little bit and talk about that school funding aspect that you mentioned first. We are, of course, staring down the barrel of more budget shortfalls as a state as lawmakers head into the session. In addition, you mentioned the new funding formula. That hasn't gone into effect yet, and there still seems to be some confusion as to what that can mean for the district, right?

Anderson: Yeah. The budget picture is bleak. No doubt about it. We are in an economic crisis as a result of a public health crisis. I don't think that we can expect any parades coming out of the legislative session in terms of funding. All we can ask is that our lawmakers and the governor continue to prioritize K-12 education.

Hopefully protected as much as possible from these very painful budget cuts, which we know will impact students. That extends into any implementation of a new funding formula that negatively impacts the Washoe County School District. [That] is going to be something we can't support. So ultimately, we are asking K-12 to be prioritized in the amount of funding and the way it's funded.

Boger: Unfunded mandates, I think, were one of those things that come up, especially when we're talking about education appropriations. You mentioned to the trustees during your presentation that that is one thing that you're going to ask lawmakers to take a look at. What are some of those mandates that you're concerned about at this point?

Anderson: Well, it's hard to pinpoint one or the other. The Clark County School District has a piece of legislation trying to address some of those unfunded mandates. In a typical legislative session, we see somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 bills passed that impact the school district and very few of those come with additional resources. Legislators are attacking small problems that they hear from constituents and that's their job.

We certainly respect that. But many times, they're asking us to make changes or do additional things that don't come with additional resources. I think we are really hoping that legislators will be cognizant of that this legislative session. This system has been stressed to the max as a result of a pandemic. It's been underfunded for years and this has really exacerbated those gaps. This system cannot take more requirements on top of what we're already doing without any additional resources. It's just not possible.

Boger: Are there aspects of that funding formula as it's written now that are concerning to you or the district in general?

Anderson: I think the funding formula is a mixed bag at this point. A lot of question marks. Philosophically, it's a very good idea. We should be funding K-12 education based on the students we're serving. So philosophically, I think we're on board. There is a component to the funding formula right now called the regional cost adjustment factor, which as the way it's currently being interpreted says that the Washoe County area has one of the lowest costs of living in the state of Nevada.

That's just hard for us to understand [when] all the other metrics that we're looking at shows the cost of housing and cost of wages, in many cases, higher in Washoe County than any other county in the state. So we're really focused on making sure that that regional cost adjustment factor reflects the reality that we're seeing in Washoe County. I think if that were true, then the funding formula ultimately could be a very good thing for the Washoe County School District, in both the short and the long term.

KUNR's Jayden Perez adapted this story for the web.

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