Nevada to Expand Charter Schools as Funding Shifts

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

A Nevada school district is about to undergo a dramatic and controversial overhaul to the way financial resources are allocated, with an ‘empowerment’ model accepted by the state’s Board of Education.

The new plan, which has taken 14 months to develop, will see 80% of school funding controlled by the school principals and their volunteer boards, reports KNTV.com.

This type of decentralized financing model has received varying critiques and endorsements over the years, similar to debates occurring around the operations of independently controlled charter schools, which have recently been successful in securing federal funding.

The shift in distributing funds to schools in Nevada will increase the number of charter schools operating within the state if the 12-member Legislative Commission passes the regulations by Friday, September 9.

The State Board of Education unanimously voted for the 31-page packet of regulations, which are required to legally reorganize the school system by August 2017. The Nevada state school system is the fifth largest in the nation, reports Neal Morton of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Critics have raised deep concerns regarding the change to the school system in the state and argue that more time is needed to ensure that vulnerable students are protected.

On approval of the regulations by lawmakers, central administration will be required to absorb the costs associated with implementation. The change will mean that 80% of the education budget will be given to schools and will provide the same level of services to the 320,000 students at the 357 schools in the Clark County School District, reports Morton.

Opponents of the plan are concerned that inequities between schools that serve mainly white and affluent neighborhoods and schools which have a higher portion of poor, minority students.

Clark County commissioner Chris Giunchigliani also described the plan as a “top-down” imposition from state lawmakers hoping to score political points during an election year:

“We had (an empowerment) model that was working and then (lawmakers) stopped funding it and that’s exactly what’s going to happen here again.”

Morton argues that a bipartisan panel of lawmakers have recycled:

“…a school empowerment model that the district piloted in 2006 but later scrapped after the Nevada Legislature pulled funding for the program. Supporters of the model, which strips power away from central administration and grants more autonomy to individual school communities, argue it will increase local control, cut costs and boost student achievement.”

These changes come as the Nevada Department of Education received almost $3.2 million in federal funding grants for existing and potential charter schools.

School models within the state are diverse, reflecting the needs of students within the area. Las Vegas has recently seen the expansion of charter and STEM schools after the Obama administration’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended in 2010 that the government develop 1,000 new STEM-focused schools over 10 years, focusing on areas that experience high rates of poverty, reports Dian Schaffhauser in THE Journal.

Schaffhauser reports that:

“At that time, a council report noted, the country had about 100 such schools. As of last year a study by the National Consortium of Secondary STEM Schools had identified 949 STEM-focused high schools alone.”