Aligning Funding for At-Risk Learners with the Costs of Serving Them Successfully

Submission for the Nevada Commission on School Funding

Schools that serve our learners at higher risk of dropping out work within the day-to-day reality that success in this crucial work generally carries higher operational costs. Nevada faces an important opportunity to align funding for at-risk learners with these increased costs.

Learners are considered at risk because each possesses specific risk factors associated with an increased likelihood of dropping out of school. Research broadly indicates that learners with these risk factors are more likely to be from our poorest households, and that one risk factor typically goes hand in hand with others.

Meeting the health, counseling, nutritional and other needs for students with multiple risk factors is essential to supporting their readiness to learn. Both academic intervention work and non-academic “wraparound services,” and the specialized, licensed staffing necessary to provide them, increase the distinct costs for schools of serving these learners effectively.

Nevada education law currently defines an at-risk student according to one metric only: a learner who is eligible for free or reduced-price lunches under the National School Lunch Program. Although the State Board of Education is given discretion to establish different definitions, and this commission is historically positioned to encourage such new approaches, hopefully by thoughtfully considering models underway in other states.

This current Nevada definition describes students whose household incomes fall within 185 percent of the federal poverty definition, or $47,600 for a family of four. There is no difference in the amount of weighted funding each eligible Nevada student may receive, based upon how far below this line their household income may fall, or any other factor.

Additional weighted per-student funding is assigned for students identified within this category, along with students identified as English Language Learners, students with disabilities, or gifted and talented students. A student only receives additional weighted funding for one of these four categories, regardless of how many of these groups the student may belong to.

Other states utilize many different factors to determine a student’s at-risk status, and these factors often receive different relative weights with regard to funding. Each of these factors are important to a child’s education because their presence frequently makes it more expensive for schools to address meaningfully so as to give these students equitable access to educational opportunity alongside their peers who do not possess these risk factors.

Pertinent examples from among the different definitions utilized by states to determine a student’s at-risk status for weighted school funding (and sometimes school accountability as well) include:

Utah: students who demonstrate any of: low performance on state tests, poverty, mobility, Limited English Proficiency, chronic absenteeism and homelessness.[i]

Iowa: homeless children and youth, dropouts, returning dropouts, and potential dropouts.[ii] Students eligible for free and reduced-price meals also receive weighted funding.[iii]

Michigan: students are eligible for at-risk funding if they meet one of a set of 10 criteria that include being economically disadvantaged, an English Language Learner, chronically absent, a victim of child abuse or neglect, and a pregnant teen or teen parent.[iv]

Minnesota: students eligible for free lunches receive additional at-risk student funding at a higher level than students eligible for reduced-price lunches.[v]

Georgia: students who test below grade level proficiency in English Language Arts or math receive additional funding, at levels dependent upon their grade levels.[vi]

Alabama: students who are members of economically disadvantaged families, students who are at risk of dropping out of high school, and students who do not meet minimum standards of academic proficiency.[vii]

District of Columbia: students in foster care, are homeless, eligible for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or behind grade level.[viii]

Additionally, other significant student dropout risk factors identified by the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University and Communities in Schools include: poor attendance, retention/over-age for grade, low educational expectations, misbehavior, family disruption, sibling has dropped out.[ix]

As this distinguished commission proceeds in its historic mission, to align Nevada’s school funding system with actual costs, it does so in the face of many real pressures. Nevada’s most at-risk learners and the educators who serve them face many real pressures each day as well. Joining these opportunities has vast potential for education good.


[i]Utah Office of Administrative Rules, Utah Administrative Code, Rule R277-708-3. Allocation of Enhancement for At-Risk Student Funds.

[ii] 281 Iowa Administrative Code, 12.2 (256).

[iii] 281 Iowa Administrative Code, 97.3 (257).

[iv] “Gretchen Whitmer Has a Dramatic Plan to Send Schools More Money for Needier Kids,” Chalkbeat Detroit, by Lori Higgins and Koby Levin, March 4, 2019.

[v] Minnesota House Research Department: Minnesota School Finance: A Guide for Legislators, November 2019, p. 101.

[vi] Education Law Center, QBE Primer: Georgia School Funding for At-Risk-Students, August 2019, p. 1.

[vii] Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act (At 2015-3, Section 4, 3).

[viii] Code of the District of Columbia, 38-2905, Supplement to Foundation Level Funding.

[ix] “Dropout Risk Factors and Exemplary Programs: A Technical Report,” National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University and Communities in Schools, Inc., 2007.