Restricted-use funds are meant to go for a specific purpose, and they are provided for from different pots of funds, separate from the general education (base) fund which pays for general operations such as payroll. The most recent state increases in education funding have come through restricted-use appropriations (sometimes known as “categorical funds”). These targeted investments in programs, aimed at improving Nevada’s overall education performance, have had positive results. However, the “basic support guarantee,” or Nevada Plan, which is the amount that the Nevada Legislature deems sufficient to fund each Nevada student has been static, and funding for supporting our most vulnerable students, such as low income or ELL students, is still not guaranteed by the Nevada Plan.
The 2017 legislature approved the continuation of the following successful bipartisan categorical programs.
ZOOM Schools - $142 million
Victory Schools. - $80 million
Read By Grade 3 Grants - $44.5 million
Full Day Kindergarten - $170 million
College and Career Readiness Grants $63 million
SB 178 Resources for at-risk students - $72 million
Nevada made efforts to address our education gaps viaZOOM schools (2013) that provide additional services to schools with high percentage of ELL students. Victory Schools (2015) provide tailored academic and more wraparound services to low income students and incentives for teachers to work at Title I (low income) schools (2015 and 2017). SB 178 (2017), Nevada’s most recent investment, is geared to improve the academic performance of students in the bottom quartile, prioritizing Nevada’s low performing schools with the greatest need. These programshelp disadvantaged students reach their academic potential through research-based education reform architecture and high accountability.
However, restricted-use funds are not the solution to Nevada’s education challenges:
While helpful, restricted-use funds cannot be relied on to cover general operational expenses such as staff salaries, health benefits, raises, and other operating costs. These expenses are covered by the per-pupil funding amount designated by the state for each school district; the funding formula is part of the Nevada Plan. In most Nevada school districts, if not all, the General Fund accounts for approximately 70% its total operations budget. Thus it's understandable that even with the recent increases in funds for school districts, they still have problems keeping up with costs such as employee increases.
They have to be reauthorized every biennium and cannot be relied on every year.Restrictive-use funds are not built into the guaranteed school funding. Every legislative session school districts have to wait to see if the new programs get reauthorized and schools have to wait and see if they will get these funds. This makes it difficult for schools to plan their funding and programs ahead of time. Some schools have started off the year unsure if they will be able to keep employees funded through these programs.
They are vulnerable to a change in government leadership. Since restrictive use funds have to be reapproved every legislative session, every new election cycle could result in a majority that does not support the continuation or expansion of these new programs.
They don’t properly address the needs or bandwidth of all school districts. Not all students who are considered at-risk receive funds targeted towards them for appropriate resources. Additionally, funds have not increased to provide services for general education students, which make up the majority of Nevada students.
Not all districts receive restricted-use dollars. Since they have smaller student populations many of the rural school districts do no qualify to receive a meaningful amount of additional funds from the categorical programs. For example, additional funds via SB178 were not provided to some rural school districts. Some rural districts received so few ZOOM school dollars, they weren't able to hire a literacy specialist to utilize the dollars in a way most needed by ELL students.
They don’t keep up with rising costs - Since restrictive funds are a set dollar amount rolled over year-to-year, restrictive-use dollars often don’t increase with inflation year-to-year, unlike funding built into a state’s funding formula.
Restricted-use initiatives are a step in the right direction to making Nevada a great place to educate children. We must now move to make sure that all our students, rich or poor, enjoy sufficient supports to reach their potential.
It is our hope that incoming state leadership not only continues to support Nevada’s equity programs, but also ensures stability of programs and provides resources to increase the positive momentum in student achievement. One way to do this is to ensure the Nevada Plan is updated to include "weighted funding," which mandates reliable funding for our most vulnerable students based on the cost of ensuring those students have an opportunity to succeed. Weighted-funding, as part of a holistic funding formula based on the actual costs of educating our students, will have a lasting impact on the future of our state. Learn more about a cost/evidence-based funding formula here.
At the end of the day, we need all students to succeed because we can only advance as a state if we advance together.