Nevada isn’t getting its money’s worth

The Nevada Policy Research Institute Report, “Funding Fantasies,” may be read at

The ship of state’s commitment to public education should get blown off course in the fiscal storm now buffeting Nevada and the nation.

Public education, Holy Grail of the political left, has my fiscal restraint radar at work. It tells me the cost/benefit ratio these days seems more costly than beneficial.

Elementary and secondary education finance is under siege, as are post-secondary coffers, but the sales pitch of Nevada higher education Chancellor Jim Rogers resonates less now than it would have a half century ago.

In 1959, baby boomers inundated public schools and burgeoning benefits of a GI Bill pointed the way to long-term benefits for educated folks and the nation.

But since the late 1970s as costs have escalated—at least in education—the boomers had fewer children and grandchildren to populate schools.

These days, Chancellor Rogers tells anyone who reads his massive memoranda why public education needs more money even as boomers close in on and—if they can afford to do so—enter retirement.

In his latest public memo, the chancellor cited the boogeyman of prison populations to make his case about financing existing K-12 and postsecondary public education.

He says it costs $16,414 annually to “educate” a prisoner but just $7,062 to educate a community college student, $13,639 for a Nevada university student—if the student doesn’t drop out before reaching one of those institutions.

Thought-provoking until you realize society feeds and guards prisoners but doesn’t incur such costs for students. Then you realize such talk is like comparing apples to Apple computers. And you might ask yourself if everyone in prison is undereducated and untrained, are they there for that reason only?

“Clearly,” the chancellor concludes after also citing welfare costs, “dollars spent to provide an excellent K-12 education would have been cheaper and [would] have given Nevada a self-supporting citizen.”

Is it possible the chancellor labors under the illusion that Nevada once had an excellent K-12 education system? I doubt it, but if so, maybe a tax-supported but sinking education ship over recent decades led to a burgeoning prison population.

Either that or well-schooled policymakers pushed well-educated judges to throw the lawbook at criminals, minor as well as major, truly turning prisons into schools for crime. A short stint as a parole board member in another state convinced me this was among the dumbest of the dumb things educated people do.

Now let’s check a report from the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), a conservative think tank. The recent institute “Funding Fantasies” report said the true per pupil cost of a 2008-09 K-12 education in Nevada was $13,052, higher than educators cite.

In Las Vegas-dominated Clark County, the report said, it was $13,387. The report pegged it in Reno-dominated Washoe County at $11,353.

These figures may or may not be accurate, but that could also be the case with Rogers’ figures. They’re only as good as the input data. This cost/benefit world sometimes can be a data-rich environment but short on skepticism or critical thinking.

One thing in the report, however, did turn my crank, if it’s true. In Clark and Washoe counties, NPRI said, the full-time equivalent staff is about one for every 10 pupils.

Perhaps we should hire retirees at lower salaries for non-teaching posts so they can afford the taxes to pay for our current K-12 education system. School administration seems a target-rich environment.

Or maybe NPRI has something in advocating less costly charter schools.