Courage to reform

Patrick Gibbons

Spending more per student has not produced the results we've been promised for the last 50 years. To make matters worse, it seems there is a very small but negative relationship between spending more money on education and low-income student achievement. Spending more money on education is a policy that appears to leave the poor behind.

Across the nation we see that increasing funds for public education does not improve education. So what does? How can we improve education without more funding for education?

Florida, which spends only $268 more per pupil than Nevada and has very similar demographics, was able to drastically improve student performance through comprehensive reform.

Florida introduced merit pay for teachers, created real consequences for schools that failed, ended social promotion, expanded charter school options, and created tuition tax scholarship and voucher programs. Essentially, Florida created both bottom-up and top-down reform. The results for fourth-grade NAEP reading scores are dramatic.

Low-income students in Florida saw a 12.8 percent improvement over the last decade. Their scores are identical to the average of all Nevada's students.

Even the supposedly hard-to-teach low-income Hispanic students saw massive gains in their English reading exam scores. Low-income Hispanics improved over 14 percent and now outscore the average Nevadan.

So what has more spending on K-12 public education done for low-income children (students eligible for free or reduced lunches) across America?

Well, more spending on public education per student doesn't seem to help low-income children at all. While increasing spending on education has no significant relationship with low-income student achievement, the negligible relationship that does exist is negative.

If Nevada's politicians were ever to muster their courage, it shouldn't be to raise taxes and increase funding for public education – we've done that and failed. It should be to push for real comprehensive reform.