New Nevada Superintendent James Guthrie: School funding is a “phony crisis”

Victor Joecks

Earlier today, Gov. Brian Sandoval announced that he has appointed James Guthrie as Nevada's next superintendent of public instruction.

As Sandoval has been right on the money with his previous education reform proposals, I'm optimistic Guthrie will be an excellent superintendent. Two other things should make all Nevadans excited about this selection.

First, noted education-reform expert Jay P. Greene has said that "Guthrie is great" and that Guthrie supports school choice.

Second, Guthrie might be the perfect person in the perfect position to counter the notion that Nevada needs to "invest" in education (aka spend more to get the same results). As Guthrie has written, money is not the problem in education today.

Chicken Little is alive and seemingly employed as a finance analyst or reporter for an education interest group. If one relies on newspaper headlines for education funding information, one might conclude that America's schools suffer from a perpetual fiscal crisis, every year perched precariously on the brink of financial ruin, never knowing whether there will be sufficient funding to continue operating. Budgetary shortfalls, school district bankruptcies, teacher and administrator layoffs, hiring and salary freezes, pension system defaults, shorter school years, ever-larger classes, faculty furloughs, fewer course electives, reduced field trips, foregone or curtailed athletics, outdated textbooks, teachers having to make do with fewer supplies, cuts in school maintenance, and other tales of fiscal woe inevitably captivate the news media, particularly during the late-spring and summer budget and appropriations seasons.

Yet somehow, as the budget-planning cycle concludes and schools open their doors in the late summer and fall, virtually all classrooms have instructors, teachers receive their paychecks and use their health plans, athletic teams play, and textbooks are distributed. Regrettably, this story is seldom accorded the same media attention as are the prospects of budget reductions and teacher layoffs.

For a variety of reasons, from one year to the next, schools almost always have more real revenue for each of their enrolled students. For the past hundred years, with rare and short exceptions and after controlling for inflation, public schools have had both more money and more employees per student in each succeeding year. Teacher salaries have increased more than 42 percent in constant dollars over the past half century, while educators' working conditions, health plans, and retirement arrangements have become ever more commodious. Moreover, school-related revenues and employment levels have increased even when the economy (as measured by Gross Domestic Product or GDP) turned down, unlike what typically happens in sectors such as manufacturing and retail sales, where recessions trigger cutbacks in personnel and profits.


And elsewhere, Guthrie has written:



Myth: America's schools have been underfunded for a long time – now is the worst time to cut spending further.

Fact: Schools have been riding a century-long wave of rising revenues.

Per-pupil-spending today, adjusted for inflation, is triple what it was 50 years ago. To be fair, this is a national picture that does not hold for every locality. Nor does it account for the added cost of our now including handicapped children in public schools. Still, in most places, real dollar school spending has been increasing for a long time

And while Guthrie was speaking about nationwide spending in that last question, Nevada has also nearly tripled inflation-adjusted, per-pupil spending in the last 50 years.