There are just too many people in the state who want a brand new Cadillac for a public education system who are only willing to pay used Saturn prices. Many of the people most guilty of this attitude are the very people we send to Carson City - our elected legislators.
These people always run for office touting education as a priority; however, when they get to Carson City, education is not treated as a priority. It's my opinion that if education is a priority, then it should be treated as one. That means it should be funded as a priority and funded first during the legislative session.
Public education is in dire need of the following - not some of the following, all of the following.
Increased teacher salaries. The state has not been able to attract and retain teachers in the areas of math, science, special education and second language. Some are talking a 4 percent increase. That price tag alone approximates $160 million.
With the new academic standards, the council is looking to increase the school day or year. One day costs in the vicinity of $11 million. If the council goes for three days, that will be another $33 million needed in the education fund.
Special education is already costing the local school districts $100 million per year out of their general budgets. That's the budget that pays for regular education students. The state should clearly come up with that funding.
We can't forget funding for the state's new accountability tests. That would include developing, administering, statistical studies and grading at the third-, fifth- and eighth-grades as well as the new high school proficiency exams. That will be a few million dollars to hire an outside contractor.
Speaking of exams, you can't increase academic standards without an expectation of an increased number of students not being able to reach the new standards on the first attempt. That translates to increased funding for remediation.
I have already predicted that with new academic standards, we can expect only 10 to 15 percent of our student population to pass the new high school proficiency exam in October of 2001. I can hear the parents of students who have been accepted to the nation's best universities now complaining their kids will lose not only their admission but scholarships based on the results of the new proficiency exam. Legislators will come under a lot of pressure from irate parents. I'm not sure of that cost, but I do know it will be in the millions.
Professional development of teachers will also be a priority. In order to teach to the new standards, local school districts will need to have additional days for professional development funded; probably around three days. That's another $33 million.
A little addition to find the subtotal is in order: $160 million, $33 million, $100 million, $2 million, another $33 million. That's around $328 million needed in additional revenue not including remediation or technology needs.
While all that is being discussed, I would bet the state would like to use the $80 million in class size reduction to offset those costs. That will still leave the state with a lot of upset parents and have the state still looking for $248 million plus after cutting the popular program.
There are three ways to handle this problem. First, if the state cannot afford a brand new Cadillac, they should not demand the taxpayers or public school systems try to pay for one. If the state will only pony up used Saturn funding, then the legislators who tout education as a priority have to stop their griping when the car has to go in for repairs.
Another method is by having the state adopt a stable tax base. We have seen this state enjoy more than a decade of prosperity, yet we cannot afford essential services. There are two groups putting something on the table for consideration in this area. Joe Neal has a petition to have the casino industry pay a fair share equivalent to what they are willing to pay in taxes out of state. The teachers' association will present its plan in March to increase the business tax that will also impact casinos. Those are the only two proposals on the table to be considered. Unless someone comes up with an alternative, the voters will have to support one of the two.
And third, the local school districts have to step up to the plate. Instead of continually going to the Legislature for more funds, they should make some hard choices themselves. For instance, by having professional development during the regular school calendar year, students would lose three contact days, but the savings to the state would be $33 million. Other states and districts already do this.
And if we addressed the credit issue more sensibly, four credits could be used for remediation in high school without additional costs to the state. Other states have that built into their schedules as well.
If the new academic standards were reasonably attainable and appropriate for all students, that would also cut another $33 million from the budget because the years would not have to be lengthened.
And if the Legislature would pass the bill that would allow retired teachers back into the system and collect PERS, we might be able to alleviate some of the shortages in math and science teachers. That bill failed last session. Ask your local candidate where he stands on these issues. The dance will be, at the very least, entertaining.
Bill Hanlon, a Las Vegas educator, is a member of the Nevada Board of Education. His views do not necessarily reflect those of other members. His e-mail address is email@example.com.