Teachers and other K-12 education advocates have complained that Nevada's funding for K-12 education is pathetically low compared to the rest of the nation.
They point to basic per pupil support from the state of just over $5,000 a year.
But when tallying up exactly what the 17 school districts do spend per pupil each year, that's far from the whole story. For most districts, in fact, it's about half the story.
A review of school district comprehensive financial statements for fiscal Year 2010 shows districts statewide spent $9,885 per pupil when all revenues are added to the state's basic support number.
Total expenditures by Nevada's school districts for fiscal 2010 were $3.94 billion on an average daily attendance of 404,096 students, according to those financial statements and data reported to the federal government by the state Department of Education.
Total state appropriations and guaranteed revenues such as the education portion of the sales tax come to more than $2 billion that year. The rest is all the so-called "local revenues" as are all federal and other funds that go directly to school districts without passing through the state first.
"It's important to look at total funding for students," said Heidi Gansert, chief of staff to Gov. Brian Sandoval. "It's important to understand there's substantially more money than basic support."
Several large pieces of the state funding aren't included in the basic support number - one of the largest being the $121.3 million to fund special education units statewide.
And large blocks of non-state funding aren't reflected in the $5,000 per pupil number - including two-thirds of the 75 cent property tax imposed in each county by the Legislature which goes directly to school districts. The state guarantees and records the 25 cent piece of that funding. But it doesn't report the 50 cent piece of that revenue stream - worth more than $500 million in fiscal 2010.
School districts also get money from the out-of-state local school support tax, a share of the slot tax and federal mineral lease revenue among other dedicated revenue streams.
Within the state's school districts, the state basic support is distributed according to a formula that takes into account local wealth from non-state sources. A prime example would be Eureka County School District, which doesn't get basic support money because of the large amount of local property and mineral proceed taxes it receives from the state's wealthiest gold mines there.
According to the most recent data available, Nevada is low compared to other states. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, Nevada was 45th in per pupil spending in Fiscal 2008, the most recent year reported. But the $9,885 figure is significantly higher than the $8,187 reported that year.
New Jersey was highest at $17,620 followed by Alaska, Connecticut and Rhode Island, all in the $14,600 range. The states spending less than Nevada per pupil that year, according to NCES, were Oklahoma, North Carolina, Mississippi and, at just $5,978, Utah.
Because of the vast differences between Nevada's different districts including their local wealth and number of students, total per pupil expenditures vary widely.
Clark County School District, with an average daily attendance of 289,698 students in FY2010, spent $9,538 per pupil. Clark was the only district in the state below the statewide average in per pupil spending. All other districts spent more but state Superintendent of Education Keith Rheault said that makes sense when you know that Clark County is home to 71.6 percent of Nevada's public school students.
"Clark can't be above the average because they are the average," he said.
At the other extreme, Esmeralda County School District, with growing mineral wealth but just 63 students, spent $33,896 per student.
Eureka County School District, with the state's largest amount of local wealth per student, was able to spend $32,343 on each of the 237 students attending there.
Generally, the fewer students, the higher per pupil spending was required to operate the schools.
The total spending number as well as the NCES data includes all expenditures in FY2010 except those for capital construction and debt service, which can't be considered per pupil costs.
But it does include a number of revenue streams some would argue shouldn't be in the total including tuition and extra-curricular activity fees, transportation and food paid for by students and their parents. Many reports deduct those funds along with federal Title 1 and Title 5 money because the federal government excludes them in the annual reports it requires from the 50 states. Those excluded revenues totaled $240 million but all - including the revenue from candy, coke and snack machines, contribute to the pot that provides K-12 education in Nevada and, so, for this report, were included in the totals.
Per Pupil spending With Exclusions* Pupils Expenditures in FY 2010
Statewide $9,885 404,096 $3,994,506,014
Carson City $10,225 7,113 $72,731,842
Churchill $10,460 3,882 $40,603,495$
Clark $9,538 289,698 $2,763,224,105
Douglas $10,997 5,910 $64,988,299
Elko $11,801 8,832 $104,229,390
Esmeralda $33,896 63 $2,145,586
Eureka $32,343 237 $7,658,732
Humboldt $10,877 3,196 $34,765,630
Lander $11,186 1,036 $11,584,635
Lincoln $14,326 1,142 $16,359,754
Lyon $12,357 8,140 $100,586,932
Mineral $15,159 564 $8,550,524
Nye $12,442 5,649 $70,280,614
Pershing $22,378 659 $14,744,604
Storey $17,987 401 $7,214,627
Washoe $10,312 56,986 $587,612,815
White Pine $12,876 1,300 $16,740,052
*Exclusions include funding for Titles 1 & 5, tuition, transportation and food paid by individuals plus summer school revenues, a total of $240,261,474 statewide.