Florida wins again

Patrick Gibbons

*Graph by Dr. Matthew Ladner

There is no shortage of ways for Nevada’s education system to look bad – especially if your only measure is spending. However, NPRI has stumbled across more evidence that suggests how much you spend matters far less than how effectively you spend.

According to U.S. Census Bureau reports for the 2003-04 school year, Nevada ranks 49th in K-12 education expenses per $1,000 of personal income. Specifically, Nevada spends just $34.43 per pupil for every $1,000 of per-capita personal income of state residents, taken collectively. Under this metric, Alaska is the biggest spender at $62.92 per pupil. That means Alaskans devote almost twice as many dollars, per capita, toward education. The national average is $43.68.

So who earns the dreaded 50th place? Florida – which spent a mere $34.36 per $1,000. Yet Florida, as you may recall, is the same innovative state where Hispanic students outperform the statewide average of all students in 16 other states. And these states include not only Nevada, but also the very white state of Oregon and those big spenders up in Alaska.

Florida’s schools have improved so much that their minority students perform as well, or better, than minority students in some of the wealthiest states in the country – including big-spending Massachusetts. And non-minority students weren’t left behind: They improved, too. Florida proves that how education dollars are spent is much more important than how much is spent.

Fortunately for Nevadans, both the Clark County and Washoe County school districts are experimenting with empowerment schools – public schools that put their focus on effectively spending the money, as judged by the principal at the school, as an alternative to Nevada’s current command-and-control model, where district central offices try to run everything, with significant waste of dollars as a consequence.

Nevada has only a handful of empowerment schools at present, but it’s a start.