Reminder: State funding for K-12 education increased last session

Victor Joecks

One of the many, many terrible things to come out of yesterday’s news that Gov. Brian Sandoval and presumed Republican legislative leaders, Sen. Michael Roberson and Assemblyman Pat Hickey, are supporting tax increases is the way they inaccurately described state education funding.

Here’s a sampling.

Gov. Sandoval’s statement: In addition to avoiding further cuts to education, this decision means there will be no need for tax increases in the next session. Nevadans will pay no more than they are in the current biennium.

Sen. Roberson, from then AP story: “I will not support additional cuts to public education.”

Assemblyman Hickey, via the AP: Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, the minority caucus leader in the lower house, also said he agreed with Sandoval’s position that the state cannot afford any more cuts to education. The state-funded portion of K-12 spending was cut about 9 percent during the last session, and state support for universities and community colleges was reduced 15 percent.

“Nevada’s recovery is still fragile and is certainly gradual,” Hickey said when reached for comment. “I agree with the governor that education, especially in lieu of reforms that were adopted and cuts that have been made in recent cycles, cannot warrant another hit.”

Washoe Superintendent Heath Morrison in a statement: “I appreciate Gov. Sandoval’s continuing commitment to education and improving results for all Nevada students. We are exceptionally grateful for his recommendation to extend the sunsetting taxes and to stabilize education funding without imposing further reductions.”

CCSD Superintendent Dwight Jones in a statement: “We have our share of financial uncertainty with teacher contract negotiations at a standstill, but it’s my hope that with Governor Sandoval’s leadership, we can avoid any further cuts in state funding and continue on the path to reform and increased academic achievement to prepare the next generation of Nevadans for college and the workforce.

Reading those quotes, especially the line in the AP story that says K-12 spending was cut about 9 percent, would lead one to believe that state education funding was cut – and dramatically at that. So let’s look at the numbers.

In 2011 (all years are fiscal years), Nevada spent $5,192 per student in Total Regular Basic Support. Under the budget passed in the last legislative session (p. 8) that amount increased to $5,263 per student in 2012 and increased even more to $5,374 per student for 2013.

Wait a second. Going from $5,192 a year to $5,263 in 2012 to $5,374 in 2013 isn’t a decrease – it’s an increase of $182 per student! Apparently, a 3.5 percent increase in the midst of a recession is what these government officials call a “cut.”

Even if you consider total state education funding, which includes class-size reduction, special education and several other categories, total state education funding in 2012 is projected to be slightly more than what was actually spent in 2011 and increase further in 2013. In terms of both actual spending and per-pupil spending amounts, Nevada is spending more than before on K-12. (Actual per-pupil spending is over $10,000 per student. The $5,263 figure is just state funding. Overall, local funding has decreased, but that’s unrelated to state funding.)

Where are the “further” or “additional” cuts in state funding? What are they referring to?

I don’t know, because they are factually wrong – as one can plainly see by looking at the budget the Legislature and governor approved just a few months ago.

Elected officials, media members and citizens who are interested in a little thing called “The Truth” should point this out, and Sandoval, Roberson, Hickey, Morrison and Jones should all issue retractions of their inaccurate statements.

When an increase in education spending is derided as a spending decrease, you begin to understand how Nevada has tripled inflation-adjusted, per-pupil spending in the last 50 years while student achievement has stagnated and our graduation rate has fallen to 45 percent.

The focus must change from education funding to student achievement. Only then will we see the dramatic increases in student achievement that states like Florida have enjoyed.