Goal: Actually educate children

Patrick Gibbons

The State of Nevada Controller's Office released its "Report to the Citizens" on Tuesday, and beyond the obvious (Nevada spent more money in FY2008 than in FY2007 despite the recession), what are most interesting are the "Performance Measures" Controller Kim Wallin reports.

One in particular is alarming (yet so amusing) – a goal to increase per-pupil spending to $9,424. That's an arbitrary number that would put Nevada's current per-pupil spending figure (i.e., excluding capital outlays, debt payment and teacher pensions!) at 20th in the country.

Alarmingly, how much we spend on students is listed as a "Performance Measure" for the state, which is nonsensical.  Is the goal simply to spend more money with no accountability for how it is spent? After all, even if Nevada were ranked No. 1 in per-pupil spending, student achievement wouldn't see any significant gains.

Instead of just arbitrarily increasing spending, shouldn't the actual performance measured be how well we increase the number of students who can read?  After all, 43 percent of Nevada's fourth-grade students are functionally illiterate, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

But no, they just want to increase per-pupil spending $2,300 more – actual education performance be damned.

The State of Nevada reports spending $7,135 per pupil (up from $6,665 in FY2007), but this is a far cry from what the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Education claim Nevada spends.  The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Nevada's spending per pupil was $7,345 (Figure 4, pg xxii) in FY2006.  The U.S. Department of Education claims Nevada's spending per pupil was $6,804 in FY2005.

Unless Nevada decreased education funding in FY 2007 – highly unlikely – the State of Nevada is likely underreporting what it actually spends.  But even so, both the Census Bureau and the federal Department of Education recognize that "current per-pupil expenditures" excludes capital outlays, debt payment and teacher pensions.

When including capital outlays and debt payment, Nevada's FY2006 per-pupil spending came to $9,738 (more than $10,200 in 2008 dollar values). Looks like we already met our spending "Performance Measure."

Now if we only had some "Performance Measures" that reflected the schools' real job: educating the children.