State school officials renew pleas for increased funding | NevadaAppeal.com

State school officials renew pleas for increased funding

The Legislative Committee on Education was told Wednesday that studies showing Nevada’s public schools need as much as $1.3 billion more a year to be adequately funded are based on faulty assumptions.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, said the number was the conclusion reached by consultants for the interim committee studying the adequacy of public school funding in Nevada. She was joined by the association of school superintendents which spelled out its INVest 07 plan seeking just over $1 billion more funding over the coming two-year budget cycle. Both rely on many of the same programs to improve education in Nevada including all-day kindergarten, heightened emphasis on special education and English language programs and before and after school programs.

But Joe Enge, representing the Nevada Policy Research Institute, said those plans are just “throw money at the problem” because they assume more spending will automatically produce results.

He said the benefits of all-day kindergarten, for example, are “urban legend,” that there are reputable studies which show any improvement in elementary school achievement produced by all-day kindergarten is “marginal and very short term.”

Enge, a former history teacher this month elected to the Carson City School Board, said the problem isn’t in elementary schools which, he said, are doing well in the U.S.

“We compare excellently in fourth grade internationally,” he said. “The wheels come off in middle school and high school.”

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Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, also expressed skepticism that all-day kindergarten – which would cost an estimated $158 million this coming biennium – is the panacea some have claimed. Cegavske said class-size reduction was touted in much the same way but hasn’t generated the improvements lawmakers hoped for.

Enge said after the meeting one reason elementary schools work better is they are smaller and teachers get to know their students better. He said shrinking the size of middle and high schools would help.

“The American factory model isn’t working,” he said. “We need a community-based, smaller schools model.”

Smith said the full Legislature should consider what to do because “we’re talking major changes and a huge amount of money.”

And Raggio cautioned her and the education committee they are also about to run up against the state’s statutory spending cap which could limit the amount of money lawmakers are able to pump into education budgets.

The committee took no action on the issue.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.