Guy W. Farmer: The State of the State is precarious

The state of the state is precarious, or perilous - take your pick. That's pretty much what Gov. Brian Sandoval told us last Monday, although he sounded an optimistic note and used more soothing words to describe Nevada's financial crisis.

Sandoval used creative bookkeeping to downplay the fiscal crisis and claimed that he can balance the budget without raising taxes. Good luck! Our Republican governor will need it as he attempts to negotiate budgetary solutions with a Legislature controlled by free-spending Democrats.

"Some believe government is the only solution to our current plight," Sandoval told lawmakers in his first State of the State speech. "I disagree. ... The solution is not more government spending, but helping businesses create more jobs."

I couldn't agree more, but that will be a tough sell in the Legislature as evidenced by post-speech comments by Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, a pair of Las Vegas Democrats.

"We believe the size and scope of Nevada's financial difficulties are greater than the governor indicated," Oceguera said as he talked about "investing" (spending) more money on education and other public services. In my opinion, however, it's a mistake to use per pupil spending statistics to evaluate public education since studies have shown that there is no correlation between per-pupil spending and student achievement.

We should take a closer look at education because it accounts for so much of state spending. Sandoval proposed a 17 percent cut in funding for higher education and 9 percent in K-12. "Our education system is broken," he said, "not the people but the system." He called for an end to social promotions and teacher tenure, using student achievement data to evaluate teachers, and advocated vouchers to allow more deserving students to attend private charter schools. At the same time he proposed a $20 million fund to reward outstanding teachers and another $10 million to continue the popular Kenny Guinn Millennium Scholarship program.

"It is unacceptable that children in classrooms literally across the hall from one another achieve at dramatically different levels because of the quality of their teacher," Sandoval said, which probably caused a lot of heartburn at the Nevada Education Association, the state teachers' union. The governor sounded like his special guest, former Washington, D.C., School Superintendent Michelle Rhee, who successfully reformed a worst-in-the-nation public school system by firing underperforming teachers.

Although Gov. Sandoval and state legislators talk about doing more with less, I suggest that they focus on doing less better. It's time for state government and the private sector to work together to improve public education and to create jobs.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, has been a Nevada resident since 1962.


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