Underfunding education is a national problem among state legislatures
An Open Letter to CCSD School Organizational Team Colleagues and Community
May 14, 2018
Dear School Organizational Team Colleagues and Community:
This week we are re-opening our budgets to make huge, distressing cuts to our schools. Clark County School District recently lost two arbitration decisions for teachers. With 87 percent of CCSD’s general fund going to salaries — in order to pay teachers what they deserve — the Board of Trustees will either have to reduce their Ending Fund Balance, or cut teaching positions.
This is a hard choice for the school board. They’ve already reduced the Ending Fund Balance this year to .78 percent (the minimum budgeting norm is 2 percent); if they reduce it again the Nevada Taxation Department could take over and the District runs the risk of lower bond ratings and/or bankruptcy — meaning fewer new construction projects for our overcrowded classrooms and class sizes will grow. Or, they can reduce the amount of people they have to pay — meaning less teachers for our overcrowded classrooms and class sizes will grow. The school board chose the latter. It is a lose-lose situation. Nevada already has the largest student to teacher ratio in the nation.
The only way to fix this perpetual problem is to increase the per-pupil funding in Nevada. Across the nation teachers are striking for increased funding. They are not picketing their school boards. They are standing in solidarity with their school boards and picketing their state legislatures. School communities across Nevada need to look at this model and start targeting their state leadership: Underfunding education is a national problem among state legislatures.
Don’t get me wrong, CCSD is not perfect. Somehow the District agreed to teachers’ pay increases for completion of professional growth plans several years ago, knowing there was no money. The school board should have said “No” then. Teachers would’ve been just as rightfully outraged then as they are now, and maybe they could have galvanized themselves enough to join the Red For Ed movement of teachers.
I am a teacher, a mom, and a community stakeholder. I sit on the School Organization (SOT) for my kids’ high school. We are being asked to cut $570,000 from our strategic budget: the equivalent of seven teachers.
I can choose to join in on the moans and groans as we listen to our principal make recommendations on which teachers’ lives we will permanently alter — or I can organize my SOT to take our cause to Carson City.
This year, the cuts will have to be made, but are we going to pour lemon juice on these wounds the next time this same crisis happens, or are we going to heal? I am determined to go to Carson City to fix this underfunding problem so this gash can heal and we can move forward.
According to the National Education Association’s Rankings and Estimates report, Nevada’s per-pupil funding is about $8,000 while the national average is $12,000. In 2012, the Augenblick professional judgement study made recommendations to increase funding to about $11,600, based on our students’ needs. Today that amount would be about $12,700, far above what is actually going to schools. Although two previous legislative sessions brought in new money for categorical spending in education, none of it goes into the school districts’ general funds, which is what pays for teacher salaries.
In 2009, the Initiative Petition 1 (IP1), also known as the room tax, would have increased the general funds for teacher salaries if the State Legislature had not diverted it into the Distributive School Account (DSA). The DSA is where taxes go to decrease the State’s obligation rather than increase per-pupil funding. It’s the same with marijuana money; the little amount that actually goes to schools, instead of to the State’s rainy day fund, doesn’t increase per-pupil funding, it only decreases what the State has to kick in to reach our students’ minimal guarantee of funding.
This week, as you sit in your SOT meetings deciding on where — or who — to cut, I urge you to also demand our State increase per-pupil funding. All 17 school districts in Nevada, not just CCSD, need more money to pay more teachers what has been contracted to them. Our critical shortage of teachers will continue because we can’t afford to hire more.
Pledge your support on www.FundOurFutureNevada.org and advocate for an increase in per-pupil funding during our upcoming legislative and gubernatorial elections. Share your SOT stories with HOPE For Nevada and legislators to make adequate State education funding a priority in your political conversations. Our students need more teachers who can be paid what they deserve!
Parent Member on the Palo Verde High School SOT
HOPE for Nevada Policy Director
Fund Our Future Nevada Coalition Member