The Shame Game

Knight Allen

For most Nevadans it no doubt seems natural enough to see and hear the teacher union—or as it calls itself, the “Nevada State Education Association” (NSEA)—complaining that state and local taxpayers aren’t paying enough to support the government schools system.

But what most Nevadans fail to understand is that this campaign in the Silver State is just a small part of a permanent national exercise by the NSEA’s parent organization, the National Education Association (NEA), to ratchet up the cost of public education regardless of the current level of support that localities are providing.

The same scenario that is currently being played out in the Nevada media and before the Governor’s Task Force on Tax Policy is being played out in front of commissions and legislative committees in states all around the country. All those boards and committees and commissions are, in reality, just pawns in a national game of divide and conquer that consciously pits one state against another. It’s a never-ending drive to channel an always-upward spiral of more and more revenue into the public education establishment.

The tactic has a long and powerful history. After all, divide-and-conquer worked for Caesar, so why shouldn’t it work for the NEA? And the mechanics of the scheme are pretty simple.

In states like Nevada, that rank below the national average in some statistical measure of per-pupil spending, the “shame game” is the weapon of choice. “Don’t you understand the children are our most precious resource? They are the future, the leaders of tomorrow. Can’t you see that? Can’t you at least bring education funding up to the national average? Is that so terribly much to ask? For the children?”

In states that are at the average the hectoring takes a slightly different twist, “Average? Is that really all you want to be? Aren’t our children worth more than an average commitment? Can’t you come up with at least some extra revenue to raise us above ‘just average’? Is that too much to ask? For the children?”

In the top-spending states it goes something like, “All the other states are increasing funding for education. You don’t want to fall out of the top ten, do you? Our children still deserve the best we can give them and that means increasing the dollars we union members receive.”

The bottom line? As this ongoing NEA program is successfully executed around the country the cost of education keeps going up, while results continue to stagnate—at best. If the Nevada education establishment is given what it wants—that’s about $375 million at minimum—the state will still be below the national average on certain rankings, and the NEA’s corporate subsidiary, the NSEA, will be right back tomorrow with its “shame game” routine again.

No country in the world spends more per capita on public education than America does, and no country gets less for its money. For half a century and more the education establishment has been whining poverty and saying the answer is more money. It has been getting away with its “Give us the money and then we’ll perform” routine for far too long.

Here in Nevada that is especially true. The last SAT results released—in August of 2001—show that everyone in the Nevada education establishment is doing far better economically than our children are doing academically. Giving the establishment $375 million more (or many times that number) is not going to change that.

Where do Nevada teachers really stand, economically? In 2000—the most recent year for which all numbers are official—the average teacher salary was $40,443, while the average private sector wage was $31,386. In other words, teachers in Nevada have a standard of living 28.8 percent higher than their fellow citizens. Clearly the people of Nevada are not shortchanging teachers; in actuality the latter are being provided with a superior standard of living.

Behind all the rhetoric, the NSEA’s scheme is a ploy to drain hundreds of millions of dollars away from people with a lower standard of living so that a group that already has a higher standard of living can move up the ladder even further.

But the people of Nevada do not exist to be mice in the NEA/NSEA’s maze. It is time to end the old order and reverse the priorities.

First should come the performance improvements. Only then should come the money.

Knight Allen, a private citizen and admirer of Thomas Jefferson, lives in Las Vegas.