The Review-Journal’s Tuesday editorial claimed that unions and Democrats are “paving the way for massive tax hikes for schools.”
But anyone who thinks Nevada has been pouring money into education hasn’t been paying attention. We rank at or near the bottom in every metric of education funding, and we still are not even funding schools at pre-recession levels.
How can that be? Don’t we always hear about new taxes for schools — the Commerce tax, room tax and marijuana taxes?
Well, the Review Journal’s “spigot” analogy on school funding is apt — except it ignores that when new revenue is added into the barrel, the state turns on the spigot to pour those dollars into the general budget. Education dollars go in, then disappear out the bottom to be used for other non-education budget items.
Don’t believe me? Look at the per-pupil funding for schools over the past 10 years. Even after supposedly “game changing” new taxes went to education, per-pupil funding remained flat when accounting for inflation. This funding accounts for about 70 percent of all money districts receive. Yet with increases in costs, demands on teachers and students and the number of students needing additional resources, funding stays the same. It’s a recipe for disaster — not just for Clark County, but for schools across the state.
As taxpayers, we should all be outraged that education dollars meant for education don’t actually increase funding for schools. We should also be embarrassed that Nevada continues to rank 48th in education funding.
The state has added some new restricted-use funding, such as pilot programs in our highest English-language-learner and low-income schools, but this accounts for only about 5 percent of overall district budgets. These programs are effective but don’t reach all the students who need services. And they don’t help with the systemic issues of large class sizes (Nevada’s are the largest in the country) or attracting and retaining high-quality teachers.
These programs do illustrate that investing wisely in public education leads to positive outcomes for our kids. We’ve seen an increase in national test scores in reading and writing, higher graduation rates and more students enrolling in Advanced Placement courses. We’d like to see more of this momentum.
Unlike the private school vouchers option, mentioned by the RJ, making smart investments in public schools works. Voucher research, even by pro-voucher think tanks, has put to bed the idea that throwing money at vouchers is anything near a good investment. Student outcomes often don’t improve. Or worse, students do poorer after taking advantage of vouchers.
We’ve yet to see Nevada private school vouchers (Opportunity Scholarships) show any achievement results. Participating private schools don’t have to test using the same standards or exams as our public schools. And unlike public schools, they don’t require private schools to have licensed teachers. Where in that system is the accountability of our tax dollars?
The bottom line is public education works when we invest in it. It works when there are appropriate accountability measures to ensure funding is used wisely. Only after Nevada does this and stops shortchanging our students,will anyone take the RJ’s criticisms and cries of “when is enough enough” seriously.
Contact Amanda Morgan, legal director of Educate Nevada Now, at email@example.com.
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