CCSD admits governor’s proposed spending increase will just enshrine the status quo

Victor Joecks

One of the big themes of Gov. Brian Sandoval's state of the state speech was that he wanted Nevada to spend more on education. In his budget, Sandoval proposes spending $135 million more on education in the next biennium.

One of the big themes of NPRI's work has been to demonstrate, again and again, that Nevada has tried to increase educational results by spending more but that pouring money into a broken system has failed miserably. Also, there is little to no correlation between spending and student achievement.

An article in today's Review-Journal shows exactly why blindly spending more only entrenches the status quo.

Even if the state approves a $135.8 million increase to education funding sought by Gov. Brian Sandoval, Clark County schools might remain just as crowded, with an average of 35 students per classroom in grades four to 12.

Under Sandoval's two-part plan, the majority of the money, $88.8 million, would be used to increase the state's basic funding to districts, which stands at $5,374 per student. That would be bumped to $5,697 by 2015, a 5.9 percent increase.

That probably would equate to $60 million more for the Clark County School District. …

The district, in contract talks with its four employee groups, isn't the only party with a say in how additional funds might be spent. Although some district unions in the past have agreed to pay freezes to keep costs down for the cash-strapped school system, there is no guarantee that will continue.

"With the wave of an arbitrator's pen, that money could go elsewhere," said Fulkerson, referring to possible pay raises for 17,000 teachers, the district's largest employee group, a matter that is in arbitration.

If the arbitrator, an objective third party, upholds teacher salary increases, it would cost an extra $50 million, Fulkerson estimated.

CCSD officials need to aggressively point out how broken Nevada's binding arbitration system is in order to push change at the legislature. Let's hope Fulkerson's pointing this out is the first step of many the district takes to highlight that salary decisions shouldn't be made by an unelected, unaccountable lawyer from California.

Otherwise, Nevada will end up with yet another example of how spending more only enshrines the broken status quo, and our students will continue to suffer in failing schools — their opportunity for a quality education slipping away as Nevada's politicians try something we already know will only continue the status quo.

***Two additional notes on this topic.

First, CCSD's class size number is garbage. There are around 311,000 students in CCSD and 17,000 teachers. That's 18.3 students per teacher. If average class sizes are really that large — and I'm not convinced they are — then CCSD is choosing to taking thousands and thousands of teachers out of the classroom. That's a management issue that money won't fix.

Second, it'll be interesting to see Superintendent James Guthrie's comments during the next few months. For now, he's praising Sandoval for spending more.

Success won't be apparent for four or five years should gains in student achievement be realized, said Guthrie, praising Sandoval for the 5.8 percent increase to education funding, which critics say is not enough.

"I believe our posture should be thank you," said Guthrie, noting that education is up for more of a funding increase than any other activity in the state.

As a scholar, Guthrie noted that education funding is a "phony crisis" and "[s]chools have been riding a century-long wave of rising revenues." I know when you work for a governor, you have to support him, but I hope Guthrie is able to use his bully pulpit to explode the myth that pouring money into a broken system is going to produce results.

Otherwise, Nevada will keep pouring money into a broken system and every two years our politicians will announce they have a plan to solve our education problems … by pouring more money into a broken system. After all, that's what they've been doing for 50 years.