Just the facts

Patrick Gibbons

The Las Vegas Sun has published several articles and op-eds, almost one a day over the last week and a half, lamenting our budget and educational funding "crisis."

Here are the links:

The Sun isn't the only guilty party; there are a host of pundits, policy wonks, bloggers and other newspaper editorial boards that share the same line of thought.

While Nevada's anti-tax crowd is regularly caricatured in these articles – portrayed as offering little beyond the "no new taxes" slogan – it is the tax-and-spend crowd that gets away with repeating the same lazy mantra: Nevada has a budgetary shortfall. Nevada has had to cut the budget. Woe is us.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. And just like a one-eyed king, the tax-and-spenders are lacking depth perception in their analysis of Nevada's education and budget situation.

So here are some facts about Nevada's education spending:

  • Nevada spent $8,926 per pupil in 2006 (total K-12 public education revenue as reported to the U.S. Census Bureau by the State of Nevada, divided by the student population).*
  • Nevada spent $2,954 per pupil in 1960 (in 2006 dollar values) according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
  • Per-pupil spending in education has more than tripled since 1960. Another way of saying that is, "Nevada's per-pupil spending in 2006 was 203 percent higher than in 1960."
  • The average private school in the U.S. charged $6,600 for tuition in 2004.
  • A Chevy Impala cost $2,590 in 1960 and was one of Chevy's most expensive cars. If the price of an Impala had risen as fast as public education spending we would have paid $53,449 in 2006. In 2006, the MSRP on an Impala started at $20,330, but you could get a fully loaded 400 horsepower Corvette for about $53k.
  • If gas prices had risen as fast as public education, Nevadans would have paid $5.72 a gallon in 2006, while the U.S average would be about $6.31.

What does Nevada have to show for tripling its per-pupil spending?

  • Forty-three percent of Nevada's fourth graders are functionally illiterate, according to the Nation's Report Card.
  • Nevada spends $44,000 to educate each child into the fifth grade, and only 57 percent of those students can read at their grade level or better.
  • The quality of education in Nevada is poor. The average fourth grader in Nevada is about as skilled at reading as some of the most disadvantaged students in Florida (kids in families of four with an annual income of less than $26,000).
  • The average fourth grader in Nevada is bested by low-income Hispanic students in Florida on the English reading exam (students in families of four with an annual income of less than $37,000).
  • The average Nevada child is on par with Florida students in families of four with annual incomes of $26,000. Nevada's median annual income was over $66,000 in 2006.
  • Nevada's math scores on the Nation's Report Card have shown only marginal improvement, up just five percentage points since 1996.
  • Only 63 percent of Nevada's eighth graders can read at grade level or above, down from 70 percent in 1996.
  • ACT and SAT scores remain flat over the last decade.
  • Nevada's State Board of Education last year was overwhelmed with 11 charter school applications and suspended its review of any new charters because it claimed it didn't have enough staff to review the applications and oversee our 22 charter schools.
  • Meanwhile, Arizona has 482 charter schools and a staff of eight to oversee them.
  • Students in the former Soviet state of Estonia best Americans on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam in Math and Science.
  • Estonia spent only $2,800 per pupil in 2004
  • Estonia can educate a student through graduation for the same amount of money Nevada spends to send a student into the sixth grade (that's using the state's under-reported per-pupil spending figure – the student is only into the fourth grade when we look at actual education expenditures divided by student population).

And those facts all just pertain to education.  Here are some facts on the state budget:

All these facts are verifiable from reputable sources, if any of the tax and spenders really wanted to look them up. Here is an inflation calculator to help. Of course, acknowledging these facts may make it difficult to cry for tax hikes and increased funding for public education without anyone asking a whole lot of questions.


*Nevada's per pupil spending when looking at total K-12 public education expenditures divided by student population is $9,726 per student in 2006.  That year, Nevada spent $331 million more than the revenue allocated for public education.