You can’t fix Nevada education by repeating past mistakes | VICTOR JOECKS

You can’t fix Nevada education by repeating past mistakes | VICTOR JOECKS

One of the biggest obstacles to improving education in Nevada is widespread ignorance of past efforts to do so.

Nevada lawmakers will have plenty of money when they meet next month. Every government agency and special interest will want their piece of the pie. The loudest will probably be the public educational institution.

Expect to hear a lot of talk about the School Funding Commission. A previous legislature created it to require more public school spending and identify specific taxes to increase. His report came out at the end of last year and it is unpleasant. The group wants Nevada to spend an additional $2.6 billion to $3.2 billion annually on education, phased in over 10 years.

To raise that money, the commission looked at massive increases in property and sales taxes. Thanks to Gov. Joe Lombardo’s pledge to oppose tax increases, those ideas aren’t going anywhere. But you can be sure Lombardo will face a lot of pressure to increase education funding, especially given the influx of tax revenue.

The assumption underlying this debate is that more funding for education will improve student achievement. The commission made it clear that it agrees with this opinion. “It can be assumed that increased funding will lead to the desired results—improved graduation rates, improved test scores, workforce assimilation,” his report said.

A problem. There are decades of evidence in Nevada that “increased funding” did not increase “desired outcomes.”

“We must begin a concerted effort to reduce class sizes to an acceptable level, especially for grades K through 3,” then-Gov. Bob Miller said in his 1989 State of the Union address. This led to the creation of the class size reduction program in Nevada. Three decades and billions of dollars later, less than 43 percent of Nevada’s fourth graders are proficient in English. In mathematics, proficiency is only 34.9 percent.

Incredibly, the legislature knew early on that the program wasn’t working. A 1995 evaluation of the program found that “approximately 90 percent of the differences in student outcomes are ‘unexplained’ by the data. These differences reflect factors such as different teaching styles, student maturity, family support, and other variables not included in the study.” Translation: This program does not squat. But the spending continued.

“A more prosperous Nevada and a better education system requires an investment from all Nevadans and all Nevada businesses,” said Gov. Kenny Guinn in his 2003 State of the State address. “Therefore, I bring you tonight a budget request for $980 million in new revenue.”

It took a constitutional crisis, but Guinn eventually faced what was then the largest tax increase in Nevada history. He was less successful in turning the new money into a “better education system.”

“We must fully fund the education initiatives that I have outlined,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said in his 2015 State of the State address. “That’s why I’m proposing a broad-based solution that requires Nevada business to invest in our education system.”

He passed the largest tax increase in Nevada history. He even wisely directed most of the money to specific programs rather than making it available for collective bargaining. But his successor, Gov. Steve Sisolak, largely rolled back his reforms, including removing the retention requirement in the Read by Three program.

Sisolak’s solution? You found it. Spend more. Less than two years ago, he signed a mining tax hike. “This investment will benefit every student, educator and family in Nevada,” he said at the time.

However, here we are. The educational establishment is once again asking for more money, confidently promising that this time a whole new infusion of spending will set things right.

In contrast, Lombardo said expanding school choice is his priority. If he wants to actually improve the state’s public schools, this is the way to go. Give the public a history lesson on why Nevada should try a new approach.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at [email protected] or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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