It’s the end of the world! No wait, it’s just a budget cut

Patrick Gibbons

*Yes, budget cuts signal the end of the world is near.

The Interim Finance Committee last week was subjected to a lot of hyperbole regarding cuts to education – some of it self-inflicted.

IFC meeting attendees heard that Nevada ranks 49th or even 50th of all the states in terms of public education expenditures. The reality: Nevada ranks between 26th and 47th, depending on which expenditures are counted and how the calculations are performed.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley claimed that the latest round of budget cuts would reduce spending per pupil by as much as $900. The representative from the Nevada Department of Education, however, corrected her, saying that it would only be about $30. Some confusion then ensued over whether the figure was $30 or $300, with the representative ultimately promising to check his math when he returned to the office.

Another committee member believed and worried that the budget cuts might bring education funding to levels not seen since 1930. The Nevada Department of Education was unable to determine which decade’s funding levels the new expenditure amounts would approximate, but even using Speaker Buckley’s (high) figure, the new levels would only take us back to the mid 1990s – hardly the stone age.

Even if Nevada were to eliminate every single penny of state appropriations to K-12 education, counties could still cut property taxes by as much as 20 percent and we’d only reduce funding levels to those of 1959 – a time that former Nevada System of Higher Education chancellor Jim Rogers has called Nevada’s golden age of education.

The current chancellor, Dan Klaich, claimed that the budget cuts would wipe out a decade of progress. To which nearly all Nevadans would reply: “What progress?”

NSHE enjoyed a 7.9 percent annual increase in funding from 2001 through 2008. By 2006 (the most recent year with available data from the U.S. Department of Education), the University of Nevada, Reno was spending $30,290 per pupil, while the University of Nevada, Las Vegas was spending $16,537 per pupil. The results? Fewer than half of the students at either school graduate within six years.

Yes, all of the spending bought big, expensive buildings, and it paid for the salaries of lots of adults. But what did it do for the students? The answer is: almost nothing.

Klaich also presented some scenarios that he claimed showed that the budget cuts were so large, they could result in the closing of Nevada State College, the College of Southern Nevada, the medical school and/or the law school. So on and so forth.

Remember last year? Jim Rogers claimed tuition would increase by 225 percent if the then-proposed budget cuts were implemented. That never happened. The claim was a strategy to tick off students, and it seems the latest round of doomsday scenarios was ripped right out of Rogers’ playbook.