Just spend more money

Legislative leaders have declared that funding the state’s operations is the only item on the agenda for the 2011 Legislature.

The nearly 200 bill draft requests submitted so far by legislators indicates otherwise.

Never underestimate the eagerness of an elected official to propose a law we somehow survived without for centuries.

Now, it’s worth noting that some of these bill requests actually seek to rein in the power of the state, which is a very good thing. Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon, for example, wants to “remove certain state mandates on schools” so county districts can control their curriculums and classes (see editorial below).

But other proposals are aimed at giving the state new powers, panels and spending money. Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson, D-Las Vegas, wants to establish an unelected advisory committee that would send tax hikes to voters to pay for road construction and maintenance, thereby protecting elected legislators from having to come up with such ideas on their own. Talk about circumventing the legislative process.

But of all the policy dreamers headed to Carson City next year, the term-limited Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, seems most determined to go out with a thud.

Having already suggested mandatory tire pressure checks for Nevada motorists, Sen. Schneider also wants a bill that requires the state’s per-student public education spending to meet or exceed the national average.

Oh, brother.

Teacher unions took this expensive, unaccountable issue to the voters in 2004. The electorate rejected Question 2, a constitutional amendment requiring K-12 spending at or above the national average.

This plan makes the incorrect assumption that simply pouring more money into the state’s existing education bureaucracies will make current teachers better and increase student test scores. If money and achievement were directly correlated, Washington, D.C., schools would be the best in American. In fact, they’re the worst.

Study after study has shown no statistical relationship between spending and student performance.

Moreover, it’s exceptionally difficult to get apples-to-apples comparisons on state-by-state school funding. Some states include the costs of health insurance and pensions in their per-student averages, while some don’t. Some states include school construction and remodeling in their figures. Some, including Nevada, don’t.

Why should Nevada taxpayers be compelled to pay more into their schools because New England school systems spend a small fortune heating their campuses in the winter?

Generally speaking, school districts use accounting methods designed to make them appear underfunded and thereby build political support for more funding and the higher taxes needed to support it.

Last year, the Nevada Policy Research Institute reported that the Clark County School District in fact spent $13,052 per student during the 2008-09 school year, not the $7,175 the district reported for the purposes of the national rankings that Sen. Schneider wants to use to lock in spending levels. The same NPRI study found that only 34 percent of the school district’s spending goes toward instruction.

Sen. Schneider’s bill, if passed, would ensure that lawmakers won’t have to take nearly as much care in ensuring that education funding is spent effectively. Mostly, it is a disingenuous sop for massive teacher pay raises.

It shouldn’t even get a hearing next year.

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