NPRI: Assembly Republicans’ plan would reform education while defending taxpayers

CARSON CITY — In response to an Assembly Republican press conference on education policy, NPRI’s Deputy Policy Director Geoffrey Lawrence released the following comments:

The education-reform agenda announced by the Assembly Republicans is quite encouraging in many respects. Like Governor Sandoval, Assembly Republicans have grasped that, in public education, we frequently don’t get what we pay for, and that some programs are vastly more cost-effective than others.

They also grasp that Nevada taxpayers — who, of course, must also provide for their own, private household needs — necessarily have only limited resources. Which means it is incumbent upon policymakers to choose the most cost-effective solutions available and forego those that are less effective.

Lawrence noted that the most efficient way to improve student achievement without further burdening taxpayers is to improve accountability by allowing parents to choose where and how their child will be educated. “With choice comes consumer discipline,” he said, “which allows the forces of the marketplace to weed out ineffective educators while the most talented educators are rewarded.”

He continued:

It’s particularly encouraging to see that Assembly Republicans, along with Governor Sandoval, call for a tax-credit scholarship program. States as diverse as Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island now boast these programs that provide financing to primarily low-income children. Tax-credit scholarships allow these children to escape failing neighborhood schools and instead attend private schools of their choice. For these children, this opens up untold possibilities that would otherwise never be available.

Because choice programs like tax-credit scholarships are most beneficial to families with limited incomes, they have been supported by policymakers from all points on the political spectrum. It’s also why important commentators on the political Left have characterized school choice as “a civil rights issue.”

Lawrence noted that longitudinal studies have repeatedly shown that full-day kindergarten — like other early-education programs — fails to produce lasting gains in student achievement. Speaking directly of these programs, he said:

While these ideas might sound great in theory, decades of evidence have demonstrated that they do not accomplish what their proponents promise. The point of all education spending should be to improve a child’s achievement over a lifetime, and these programs’ results fade almost immediately.

Although not highlighted by Assembly Republicans, class-size reduction is also an expensive program that has failed to produce results. Nevada taxpayers have now poured more than $2.2 billion into this program and, yet, the state’s own data has shown that students in larger classes have outperformed their peers in smaller classes.

What is the greatest variable impacting student achievement that schools can control? By a huge margin — research has shown — it’s the quality of the teacher. That’s why it’s essential for Nevada to establish meaningful teacher evaluations built on sound, longitudinal tracking of student performance. Once the best teachers have been identified, they should be handsomely rewarded, while those who are ineffective should be assisted to improve their skills with additional training — or encouraged to exit the classroom.

Lawrence further noted that every tax dollar used to bail out Nevada’s struggling Public Employees’ Retirement System or on excessive building costs is a dollar that is unavailable for classroom spending. He concluded:

Assembly Republicans recognize that the budget process is about tradeoffs, and that if they want to spend more on education, they must find savings elsewhere. That’s why it’s so important to end the unnecessary hundreds of millions wasted by Nevada’s prevailing wage requirements, as 10 other states, facing similar challenges, have done since the 1980s. Also, PERS reform is paramount if that system is to remain solvent. Otherwise, taxpayers will continue to be compelled to dump more and more into the system each year to attempt to keep up with its large and growing unfunded liability.

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