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VICTOR JOECKS: CCEA promises that this time — really — more money will improve education

The Clark County Education Association’s plan to pass the biggest tax increase in Nevada history depends on public ignorance. That strategy has worked before.

Last week, union officials announced they will seek to qualify a ballot measure to raise taxes by $1 billion a year and direct the proceeds toward public education. The union could use the ballot measure to pressure the 2021 Legislature to raise taxes before the initiative went to voters in 2022. For perspective, the largest tax increase in state history to this date brought in around $750 million a year.

This new funding, the union contends, is the key to improving Nevada’s schools. If only someone had tried this approach before. Oh, wait. Nevada did — four years ago. And 16 years ago. And in the late 1980s. And for most of the past 60 years.

Since 1960, Nevada’s inflation-adjusted, per-pupil spending has increased more than 150 percent. For every inflation-adjusted dollar the state spent six decades ago on a student, it spends more than $2.50 today. That doesn’t include the billions school districts have spent on new construction via bond campaigns. In 1989, the Legislature implemented a program that allocated extra money to reduce class sizes through third grade. Since the program started, it has cost Nevada taxpayers more than $3 billion.

Yet Nevada’s education problems continued.

In 2003, then-Gov. Kenny Guinn believed he had the solution. He advocated for — at the time — the largest tax hike in Nevada history, specifically to fund education. In 2015, Nevada’s education system was still underperforming. Then-Gov. Brian Sandoval promised he had a school plan that would “modernize and transform Nevada for its next 50 years of success.” A primary component was the largest tax increase in Nevada history. Sound familiar?

That was four years ago. If more money fixed Nevada’s education woes, the union would have no reason to demand another tax hike. The issue would have been solved in 2015 or 2003 or 1989.

For the education establishment, however, more is never enough. In May 2015, I predicted this exact scenario.

“In 2017, 2019 and 2021, the education establishment will return to the Legislature with their hands out, demanding higher taxes for the children,” I wrote. “And if lawmakers don’t provide another $1.5 billion-$3.2 billion in spending, they’ll threaten to run an initiative petition.”

I’m not trying to give myself a gratuitous pat on the back. I want voters to realize how obvious this pattern was and still is — before the union tries to hoodwink them again.

Pouring more money into a broken system doesn’t fix it. It only makes it more expensive. That’s especially true after Democrats repealed some of the modest reform measures Sandoval insisted on tying his tax hikes, such as retaining third graders who couldn’t read. They also gutted the Opportunity Scholarships. That program gives students grants — worth less than the average amount spent per-pupil — to pay for private school tuition.

Imagine the union succeeds in increasing education spending by $1 billion a year. After four or six years, members of the education establishment will come to voters again and insist that this time — really — more money will fix our schools.

Don’t let them keep fooling you.

— Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 10 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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