The big sleep

Steven Miller is policy director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a free-market think tank. For more info, visit
Republican state legislators are accused of a blasphemous absence of reverence for the Transcendent Divinity of Nevada’s public-school apparatus.

In actuality, the Rs have been regular hat-doffing peasantry before the Cult of the Sacred Bovine. When this session’s proposed $2 billion education budget went before the Assembly, Republicans tried to pass it out of committee.

But the Ds wouldn’t have it. Instead, they lashed the education bill to their proposal for a Nevada income tax. It was an exercise in extortion—to be able to say, later, that the Rs had “voted against education” if they voted against the Ds’ IRS scheme.

Sure enough, Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins issued a press release, asserting, “It is time for a small handful of legislators to stop holding our schools hostage …”

The irony is Nevada’s schools do such a pathetic job that budgets should be held hostage.

For years, 30 to 40 percent of state high school grads have had to take remedial English or math when entering college. With these students, Nevada public schools clearly have failed in their most basic mission.

Nevada has the nation’s lowest percentage of high school graduates who go on to college—less than 40 percent. Yet these students have higher academic qualifications than the 60-percent-plus who do not even enter college.

What does that mean?

It means that the proportion of Nevada high school graduates who leave school lacking basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills is almost certainly well over 50 percent! Add in the 20 percent of Nevada students who never even finish high school the highest proportion of dropouts in the United States and the proportion of failure to success of the state’s public schools could exceed 70 percent!

The human tragedy is massive.

This calamity has long been not only tolerated in Nevada, but regularly exploited for money. In a 1995 study, the Nevada Policy Research Institute revealed that between 1983 and 1992, state spending on education had increased 194 percent. Enrollment during the same period had increased by only 40 percent.

This was a massive per-pupil increase of 54 percent for the 10-year period. Today, Nevada stands at the midpoint of the states in terms of total spending per enrolled student.

And yet, as noted above, the state’s educational product is abysmal.

In other sectors of the economy, we see a relentless pursuit of efficiency and productivity that we don’t see in public education.

The reason: incentives. Private, free enterprises hustle to serve their customers, while our public schools are essentially socialist factories. Administrators and teacher union bosses wield power while actual parents and children have little leverage. The general public is anaesthetized with big public relations budgets, while the actual individual needs of children are low on the totem pole.

That such a system still has controlling power in the Silver State suggests that the anesthesia has become, for the political class, an addictive narcotic.