Nevada Bill Aims for Big Per-Pupil Spending Hike

Published June 1, 2009

A bill introduced in the Nevada state legislature this spring proposes requiring the state to increase its K-12 spending to match the national average of $9,332 per student. That’s about $2,000 more per student than the state currently spends.

Nevada state Sen. Michael Schneider (D-Las Vegas) in March introduced Senate Bill 2, which would appropriate an additional $835,321,600 over current education spending for fiscal year 2009-2010 and $849,158,866 for fiscal year 2010-2011. The bill does not indicate how the money should be spent. At press time the measure was pending in the Senate.

If passed, the proposal would “cost the state $1.7 billion over the next biennium—a 21 percent increase in spending over the 17 percent increase the teacher union’s favorite lawmakers are demanding,” noted Patrick Gibbons, an education policy analyst at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a think tank in Las Vegas.

That means the state would have to increase spending by about 55 percent and drastically increase taxes to do so, with no provision for ensuring positive results from the spending. Meanwhile, Nevada’s “debt-to-expenditure ratio is the largest in the country, our per-pupil debt is the third largest, and our capital expenditures per pupil are the third largest,” Gibbons noted.

Improving Education?

Schneider said the legislation is needed because increasing per-pupil spending will improve the quality of education statewide. Gibbons strongly disagrees.

“Without regard for excellence, or punishment for failure, or tying per-pupil spending to the quality of education, no amount of money will improve student achievement,” Gibbons said. “The answer is not how much we should spend but how we should spend it. Nevada has a serious problem spending lots of money building palatial schools and paying off mountains of debt.”

Alternatives Available

Nevada’s education can improve without spending increases, Gibbons says.

“Instead of increasing spending, we need smart spending,” Gibbons explained. “Make the money follow the children, and give parents more choice as to where their child goes to school. This would compel schools to begin proving they can provide quality education. Expanding education options by increasing charter schools or adding voucher programs would help greatly.”

Some other education bills introduced this spring, including two by state Sen. Barbara Cegavske (R-Clark County), take Gibbons’ approach. Senate Bill 259 creates alternative pathways to teacher certification, while Senate Bill 289 creates a tuition scholarship program for special-needs children.

Even more ambitious was Assembly Joint Resolution No. 4, sponsored by state Assemblyman Ed Goedhart (R-Amargosa Valley), which would have created a universal education tax-credit program. (See story on this page.)

Tying Quality to Service

“We need to evaluate which programs create the biggest bang for our buck and eliminate the programs that create no value,” Gibbons said. “For example, research shows advanced degrees for teachers do not increase teacher quality or student performance, yet Clark County awards a $5,600-a-year bonus for having a master’s degree. Other programs, such as class-size reduction, waste millions of dollars while merely increasing the likelihood that Nevada students are exposed to ineffective teachers.

“We need to get policymakers who oppose reform to seriously answer this question,” Gibbons concluded. “Can we reasonably expect the quality of education to improve if the funding of K-12 education is not tied to the quality of service provided?”

Sarah McIntosh ([email protected]) teaches constitutional law and American politics at Wichita State University in Kansas.

For more information …

Nevada Senate Bill 2:

Nevada Senate Bill 259:

Nevada Senate Bill 289:

Assembly Joint Resolution No. 4: