- Associated Press - Thursday, March 16, 2017

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Nevada Democrats are eager to expedite state aid, totaling billions of dollars by 2021, to public and charter schools for disabled, English-learning and low-income students under a proposal lawmakers heard Thursday.

Nevada is already scheduled to provide extra funding for special-needs kids in 2021.

But Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said the needs of Nevada students can’t wait.

His Senate Bill 178 would begin to introduce the additional funds on a per-pupil basis in July and cost a total of nearly $2 billion before the originally planned start date.

“It is my feeling that if we are going to be committed to a weighted funding formula then we should make an actual commitment,” Denis said. “If we find from our experience in the coming years that these weights are too high or too low, then they can be adjusted as necessary.”

School officials from across Nevada told members of the Senate Education Committee they wish the proposal was more financially realistic as Nevada continues to rank among the worst states for student test scores and per-pupil funding.

Budget and revenue projections have come nowhere close to providing the money needed to introduce the weighted formula, as Denis envisions it, four years earlier than planned.

John Vellardita, a lobbyist for teachers union Clark County Education Association, said legislators should not take up Nevada’s plan to tailor school funds for special-needs students without finding a way to significantly increase funding. He suggested an additional $200 million a year would be a sensible start.

“If this Legislature is not prepared to address it in a significant way then let’s get real,” Vellardita said.

Denis, backed by Democratic legislative leaders, is proposing students with disabilities count for twice the state’s basic support guarantee beginning this year. For students who are learning English or qualify for free or reduced lunch, the base amount would be multiplied by at least 1.05 in 2017, 1.15 in 2018, 1.3 in 2019 and 1.5 in 2020 and each school year after.

The Nevada Department of Education estimates SB178 would cost nearly $1.4 billion every two years after it is fully implemented.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Canavero said before the hearing that he did not expect to calculate specific numbers for the weighted formula, like Denis proposes, for another two years.

The state does not yet have enough data, Canavero said, to decide which of its recently implemented educational programs aimed at boosting literacy and achievement in low-income neighborhoods are the most effective.

“I just don’t frankly know, as of now, what those targets should be,” Canavero said.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval has raised more than $1 billion for new educational programs since taking office, largely by working with lawmakers to increase state taxes. Sandoval has proposed the state draw on expected marijuana revenue to boost literacy programs by $107 million over the next two years.

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