Commentary by Chuck Muth: How to reduce class sizes while reducing budget
Invoking hyperbole and rhetoric worthy of higher ed Chancellor Dan Klaich, public school officials all over the state are griping about much-needed budget cuts coming their way thanks to Gov. Brian Sandoval standing firm on his commitment not to raise taxes. Indeed, Clark County school board President Carolyn Edwards recently lamented, “I think we elected the wrong governor.”
Um, except that Gov. Sandoval’s opponent, Rory Reid also promised not to raise taxes. So I guess Ms. Edwards simply believes that Reid, unlike Sandoval, wouldn’t have kept his promise. Go figure.
In any event, one of the biggest complaints is that proposed budget cuts will result in larger class sizes.
In a recent op/ed, former Democrat Gov. Bob Miller defended his 1990s-era “class size reduction” program, which has sky-rocketed in costs while resulting in no discernible, lasting improvement in student achievement. Regardless of the fact that the program doesn’t work as advertised and costs way, way, way too much, Miller says taxpayers should keep dumping money into it because … well, basically, because parents feel good about it.
Yes, it’s easy to fool concerned parents into thinking that smaller classes headed by an incompetent teacher using an academically lame curriculum in a failed public school monopoly will actually help students learn better. But here’s a way for Nevada’s school systems to have their cake and eat it, too.
To adjust for budget cuts, the Clark County school district has said it “plans to increase the average class size by three students in grades 1-3, by five students in grades 4-5 and by seven students in grades 6-12.”
So here’s a way to keep class sizes just as they are and stay within budget.
Let’s say the state is paying a school district $5,000 a year per student, OK? So what the state should do is offer the parents of three students in each “overcrowded” Grade 1-3 classroom a voucher for $5,000 if they would enroll their child in a private school of the parents’ choice. Ditto five parents in each “overcrowded” Grade 4-5 classroom and seven parents in each “overcrowded” Grade 6-12 classroom.
Ditto any other overcrowded schools anywhere else in the state.
This way class sizes would then remain exactly where they are today without costing Nevada taxpayers one additional dime. The parents who would love to remove their kids from public schools but otherwise couldn’t afford to will be thrilled. And all those parents who feel good about the public schools’ ineffective class-size reduction program can remain comfortably numb in their delusion.
Do you think any school district would ever consider targeted vouchers to alleviate classroom overcrowding unless forced to by taking “revenue enhancements” off the table? Of course not. Which is why it’s so important for Gov. Sandoval to stay the course.
• Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.