CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada’s K-12 schools have long sat near the bottom of national rankings in terms of per-pupil spending, class size and student achievement.
Now, they’ve hit the jackpot.
An enormous infusion of federal pandemic aid earmarked for education presents schools with a rare opportunity to address shortcomings that teachers, parents and lawmakers have lamented for years.
Since March 2020, the federal government has provided $190 billion in pandemic aid to schools, four times more than what the U.S. Department of Education spends on K-12 schools annually. The Associated Press, relying on data published or provided by states and the federal government, tallied how much money was granted to nearly every school district in the country.
The AP tracked about $155 billion sent to states to distribute among schools since last year, including general pandemic relief that some states shared with their schools. The latest and largest round of funding, totaling $123 billion, is still being distributed and gives schools enormous flexibility in how to spend it.
In Nevada and throughout the nation, the amount that school districts received per student varies drastically, with districts that serve students from low-income households receiving the lion’s share. While 20% must be used to address learning setbacks, the rest can be used on nearly any cost school officials deem “reasonable and necessary.” Schools have three years to spend the latest round, a window that many district officials say is short for such a large amount of money.
Nevada will receive $1.58 billion in total — a massive windfall considering it spends roughly $3.3 billion in state and local funds annually on K-12 education. The funds dwarf the additional $85 million that the state expects to collect annually from a mining tax hike passed in May after years of debate. And they come amid a sea change in education funding, two years after the state changed the complex formula for how it distributes funds to schools.
Unlike states that have funneled dollars to upgrade their air quality systems, bolster charter schools or fix crumbling ceilings, Nevada has spent months collecting input on how to spend the money. School districts must submit spending plans to the state by Sept. 10.
The Nevada Department of Education outlined priorities it hopes districts address as they design plans in a document it submitted to the federal education department last month. It directs officials to use the funds toward efforts including to close opportunity gaps for underserved students, expand access to technology, and enable distance learning.
Nationwide, some districts will receive sums amounting to 50% or more of the cost to operate their schools for a year. The median aid allocated to districts was about $2,800 per student, but it varies widely by district and state, according to the AP’s analysis.
In Nevada, the amount ranged from $3,796 per student in the Las Vegas area to $172 per student enrolled in schools in Eureka County. No schools in the rural district are eligible for the Title I funding sent to schools serving low-income students. The Title I formula was used to divvy up parts of the pandemic aid.
The vast majority of the funds will go to Clark County School District, which is the state’s largest and historically most cash-strapped district. It will receive $1.26 billion, or 85% of the funds. The Las Vegas area district is the nation’s fifth largest. It will receive the sixth most total funds in the nation, but the least per student among the 10 largest districts.
The district spends about $9,300 per pupil annually, below the national average of $12,624 per student.
The state’s public charter school authority will receive $85 million. In the Reno-Sparks area, the Washoe County School District will receive $137 million. And $273,000 will go to the rural Esmeralda County School District, where 81 students were enrolled for the 2019-2020 school year.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.