A national expert on public education issues says Nevada has no choice but to do a study analyzing the adequacy of public school funding in the state.
David Shreve of the National Council of State Legislatures told Nevada's Committee on Educational Excellence the study will help stave off possible lawsuits to force the state increase school spending. But, he said, it will also pretty much commit the state to do whatever the study says is necessary.
The Nevada Plan, which was designed to ensure funding equity among the 17 school districts, has been in effect since the 1960s and is one of only five state plans not yet challenged in court. But Shreve said its strength was undermined when states began imposing standards-based reforms on local school districts. That was the beginning of mandates and testing designed to ensure students were actually learning what they need by graduation.
"Most states who passed standards-based reform didn't really anticipate what it would lead to," said Shreve after his committee presentation.
What it led to was a series of suits - most prominently in Kansas - arguing states which impose standards must provide funding to meet them. Courts generally ruled that once a state mandated standards for performance, it assumed some responsibility for providing the money.
Nevada lawmakers imposed standards in the 1990s.
Shreve told the committee Nevada can either "go about this proactively and have some control over it" or wait for a lawsuit that takes much of its ability to control the process away.
"Eventually, your state, like every other state, is going to be at risk as performance standards are ratcheted up," he said.
In fact, Clark County's former superintendent, Carlos Garcia, suggested at one point that the school district might consider litigation to force funding increases.
Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, chairwoman of the Legislative Committee on Excellence in Education, said the committee will set the ground rules for the study and select a national contractor to do the work.
Al Bellister representing the Nevada State Education Association said whatever the results of the Nevada study, the state will have to act on it.
"I don't think they can do this study and then put it on the shelf," he said.
Shreve agreed the study will force increases in funding but repeated that lawmakers have some control over that by setting the parameters used before a lawsuit is filed.
He and Bellister said adequacy of funding isn't just a state problem. They said the federal government put itself in a very similar position when President George Bush pushed the No Child Left Behind Act through Congress.
The act sets national standards for local schools to meet and most states have complained bitterly the act falls far short of providing the money to meet those requirements.
"By setting out performance standards in No Child Left Behind, the feds have also ignored the consequences," said Shreve. "Between state and federal, it's sort of the perfect storm."
Bellister said the National Education Association has already filed a lawsuit in federal court to force the federal government to provide the money to meet the federal act's goals.
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