Nevada Education: Laying the Groundwork
- Friday, December 17, 2004
Education is Nevada's greatest budget priority, comprising nearly 55% of the state's budget. Even though Nevada leads the nation in terms of percentage of money spent on education, results on standardized tests remain near the national average. Such a performance record would put any investor in the private sector out of business. This study outlines three major problem areas - the economies, politics, and accountability of education in Nevada. The author recommends reforms that would improve the level of education in Nevada.
Nevada's per pupil spending ranks 32nd in the nation, while teacher's salaries are ranked llth. As a result, a significantly higher proportion of per pupil spending goes to teachers' salaries than in other states, but student achievement is not proportionally high. Educators salaries in Nevada are in no way tied to student success, but rather tenure and licensure practices. Longevity does not necessarily translate into superior performance and should be eliminated as a criteria for salary increases. Instead teachers should be evaluated based on student performance, thus encouraging a sharpened focus on academic excellence.
Teachers' unions hold monopoly power over Nevada education. Union agendas are in natural contradiction to educational and parental agendas. Salary negotiation and collective bargaining greatly impact a districts' budgeting process and allocation of resources. Since the policies negotiated by the unions are personnel policies they are public policies and the unions ought to be subject to the same requirements as private sector unions under the National Labor Relations Act. Applying these requirements to the various teachers' unions under state bargaining statutes would allow public participation in the negotiation process and turn over more power to those paying the bills - the taxpayers.
Limited budgets necessitate prioritization in the areas of instruction and operations. For example, mastery of reading in the early grades provides economic rewards in the later grades. Less remediation translates to less funding required.
Privatization and choice should be further explored. The "contracting out" of services and competitive bidding should be employed to conserve tax dollars. Such programs lift the fiduciary burdens off of the school system. The teacher union control over licensure excludes qualified teachers from the classroom.
Politics of Education
The Educational system is often a victim of political wrangling and of special interests (teacher's unions) putting their own agendas over what may he best for the children.
Nevada is the only state to mandate class-size reduction in primary grades. Union arguments sound good: They claim that lowering student/teacher ratios translate into higher achievement. Reality contradicts this hypothesis. Achievements remain stagnant.
Union PAC funds at present are collected by the school district - an obvious ethical and legal violation of public moneys. In addition, unions have a reverse check-off System for PAC contributions by union members - a practice presently illegal at the Federal level. Taxpayer moneys are also misused by giving teachers days off with pay to conduct union activities.
There are several legislative options to solving the union monopoly over public education: Teachers should be allowed to leave the union at any time without penalty; nepotism between union and elected officials should be disallowed, and tenure laws should be eliminated.
Accountability in Education
Bond money expenditures are frequently used for contingencies such as cost overruns or extras not identified for the public. Likewise grants received need to be itemized by distribution categories.
The protection of the academic core is vital if we are to improve education. Classroom disruptions, non-essentials classes, length of school day and inaccurate assessment of student achievement accumulatively affect the caliber of Nevada education.
Research at conducted at the University system should meaningfully contribute to improving education. Any failure of Nevada's education research to connect with local education practitioners is problematic since many of Nevada teachers and administrators are trained in our own state funded institutions (18.6 percent of the state education budget).