Funding Fantasies

Nevada K-12 education spends more than you think

By Patrick R. Gibbons
  • Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Executive summary

The amount of money Nevada taxpayers spend on K-12 education is a hotly debated topic. Advocates of increased spending believe more money will allow the state to hire more teachers, to increase salaries to attract higher-quality teachers, to reduce class sizes, to buy computers, textbooks and school supplies, and of course to construct new schools. In general, such assumptions are reasonable; quality goods and services often do cost more money.

An alternative point of view, however, notes that such spending does not guarantee quality and has regularly failed to do so in the realm of public education. Proponents of this alternative view believe that remuneration needs to reward high-quality service while penalizing low-quality service. This, too, is a reasonable point of view.

There is, however, a way to transcend this controversy: Let us focus first on how effectively we are spending our current education dollars. Are the funds going to ineffective programs when more effective programs are being short-changed? Surely the relative productivity of areas of existing spending should be known.

Unfortunately, neither the State of Nevada nor its school districts pursue this data — something that virtually any competent business would do. And while the Nevada Policy Research Institute eventually foresees being able to provide the public with such information, this particular paper must begin that process at a much more fundamental level. This paper asks: How much are Nevada taxpayers actually spending on the education of their youth?


Findings of this report

Public school finance is a world where relatively arbitrary accounting categories are regularly deployed to give parents and taxpayers overly modest impressions of existing spending. In reality:

  • In Nevada, the true spending amount on K-12 education during the 2008-09 school year averaged $13,052 per pupil.
  • Per-pupil expenditures during that period ranged from a low of $10,889 in Churchill County to a high of $49,551 in Eureka County.
  • Although the Clark County School District officially reports per-pupil spending for the 2008-09 school year will be $7,175, the actual true cost per pupil will be $13,387.
  • Only 34 percent of the Clark County School District budget goes into instruction.
  • Washoe County School District's actual cost per pupil is approximately $11,393.
  • Both the Clark and Washoe county districts employ at least one fulltime equivalent staff member for every 10 students enrolled.
  • Per charter-school pupil, Nevada spent just $6,746 during the 2008-09 school year.

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