School-funding balloon has some holes
If an education-funding initiative outlined last week by the Nevada State Education Association was being floated as a trial balloon, the group might want to patch some holes before attempting to collect signatures.
The plan generally calls for Nevada to fund public schools at the national per-student average. The impetus is U.S. Census data from the 2000-01 school year showing the state ranked 46th at $5,778 per pupil.
The association is justified in advocating for increased funding for schools as a way to improve education and – secondarily, we trust – make sure there is enough money to pay its members, who are teachers. That’s part of the NSEA’s role.
It risks painting itself into a corner as just another special interest, however, when it advocates for a budget guarantee that carries no corresponding accountability measures, fails to show specifically how increased funding will improve classroom performance and ties Nevada to a nebulous national average which would, in effect, become an unfunded mandate.
Tying anything to a national average is usually a bad idea. Even if everyone agreed on an accurate figure for per-pupil spending state by state, Nevada would never catch up. It would be chasing an ever-spiraling number.
Calling for a spending increase doesn’t explain where the state will get the money. To its credit, the NSEA has laid out tax-increase proposals in previous legislative sessions.
And to their credit, Gov. Kenny Guinn and legislators boosted education funding to more than $1.6 billion, a 33 percent increase that was a big reason for the record-high tax package. Last summer, proposed legislation that also would have tied Nevada to national averages for school spending was estimated to cost more than $500 million.
If the teachers union wants another increase in school budgets, it should show a source for the money (either higher taxes or cuts elsewhere in the state budget), how the money would be spent (other than increasing salaries) and how the extra money would improve learning in classrooms.
The NSEA may well find support among Nevada voters for higher schools funding, but it will have a better chance of persuading them with arguments more substantive than, “We don’t spend as much as other states.”