It’s not money that matters

Nevada’s education establishment is once again pursuing its own myopic, self-serving agenda. Fresh on the heels of the tax hike in the last legislative session, the Nevada State Education Association (NSEA) has its proverbial hands outstretched again.

This time it’s a constitutional ballot initiative called Question No. 2, which reads: “Shall the Nevada Constitution be amended to require that the annual per-pupil expenditure for Nevada’s public elementary and secondary schools equals or exceeds the national average?” There’s no doubt where the NSEA comes down on the issue, as its Web site proclaims, “It is imperative that our K-12 public schools be funded to at least the national average.”

According to 2001-02 census data, the amounts spent by states on education per student ranged from $4,890 in Utah to $13,187 in the District of Columbia. At $6,034 per year, Nevada ranks 41st, a stone’s throw from the national average of $7,701.

The public has been conditioned to believe that educational excellence can be achieved only with increasingly more money. While school and teacher-union officials shamelessly cry poverty, the public and NSEA lapdog politicians accept this at face value. The untold truth is that our state ranks 23rd in the per-student percentage Nevada taxpayers contribute to education. The NSEA and its “pro-education” legislators continue to recite the mantra that schools “need more.”

The question is, how much is enough? In the same year, Utah spent only $4,890 per student, but on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), Utah students outperformed their counterparts in New York (which spent $11,546) by 145 points. Montana spent slightly less than California—$7,027 and $7,511, respectively—but Montana students scored 12 percent higher.

The American Legislative Exchange Council found that despite the fact per-student expenditures have increased (in constant dollars) by 22.8 percent in the last 20 years, standardized test scores have remained relatively unchanged. The report revealed no correlation between expenditures and test scores. Clearly, spending more on education doesn’t lead to increased achievement, yet the education establishment reflexively reaches for taxpayers’ wallets time and again.

While bemoaning the demise of the obscene business gross receipts tax in the last legislative session, union leaders steadfastly opposed plans to pay more for teachers with hard-to-find specialties, such as experience. This keeps teachers from coming to Nevada from other states. How else would you explain that Nevada, unlike 38 other states, has no reciprocity arrangements to increase teacher recruitment?

Washoe County School District, for example, recognizes only five years of experience when hiring teachers from out of state. So a teacher coming into the district with 10 years of experience gets credit and pay based only on five years. Not exactly an appealing incentive to experienced recruits, but a blatantly protectionist move on the part of the union. Incidentally, the American Federation of Teachers ranks Nevada 15th in beginning teachers’ salary but 26th in average pay.

So while not proposing any new ideas, the education system reiterates the same tired line, “More money.”

Here’s a simple concept: Take the local district’s per-student allocation, give it to the taxpayer and let him or her decide how to spend it. Of course, this terrifies the education monopoly. The NSEA’s Web site proclaims they oppose those who would dismantle the current system in favor of “ill-conceived free market schemes.” Those at the NSEA need an education in economics. In the free market, success is rewarded, failures are not.

The truth is that those who fear competition secretly know they have reason to.

After all, why oppose competition if you’re confident your solutions are the correct ones?