Nevada legislators and education officials focus on at-risk students

In the first state-level presentation of Gov. Joe Lombardo’s education budget, Department of Education officials shared how they propose the funds should go to each of the state’s 17 school districts and its Charter School Authority. However, state legislators have the final say in the upcoming biennial legislative session, which begins Monday, February 6.

During the meeting, lawmakers questioned how the state identifies at-risk students in its weighted funding mechanism, as school districts receive additional money for each at-risk student, English learner, and gifted and talented student they serve.

Historically, at-risk students were defined as those who were eligible for a free or discounted lunch under federal poverty guidelines. However, eligibility has expanded to entire schools of students due to new rules and some parents failing to fill out required forms due to social stigma.

Under new guidelines from the Nevada State Board of Education, the Department of Education defines at-risk students as those at risk of not completing high school with their class, which is a decision based on each student’s academic ability, attendance and behavioral history .

However, lawmakers like State Senator Dina Neal of district 4 doubted the absence of environmental factors in this determination.

“I believe there’s a lineage to a ZIP code that’s historically been underserved and uneducated, and it’s an ongoing timeline that we’ve had 20 years to refer to,” she said.

State Rep. Natha Anderson of district 30 shared Neal’s concern and specifically asked if community metrics such as average house prices in a school’s enrollment area were included in the determination, which is not the case.

Neal also wondered if the new definition left out younger students who weren’t yet in high school. State Superintendent Jhone Ebert assured her that was the case.

“If they can’t read by third grade, they’re not on track to succeed in middle school or high school. And so those funds go straight to these third graders, these fourth graders, middle schoolers,” she clarified.

Anderson also questioned the use of behavioral history as a factor, since schools enter this data differently in student records. Ebert said this is an issue and the department has been meeting with districts to ensure the data is being entered correctly.

Jose Davila IV is a corpsman for Report for Americaan initiative of GroundTruth Project.

The image included in this story is a screenshot of the livestream meeting of the Legislative Commission Budget Subcommittee on Friday 30 January 2023. Click here to view the recorded video on YouTube.