Sandoval’s total proposed reduction to state education spending is less than 6.1 percent

Victor Joecks

There’s a lot of nuance when dealing with education spending in Nevada, so let’s look at the findings first.

Under Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget (as amended on March 28), Nevada’s required state support of education would decrease by less than 6.1 percent, as measured by total and per-pupil spending and compared with the previous biennium.

Less than 6.1 percent. Think about that for a moment. At a time of 13 percent unemployment and when businesses have seen their revenue decline by up to two-thirds and business owners have taken 50 percent pay cuts (or more), the reductions we’ve been hearing leftists and union bosses complain about ad nauseum amount to less than 6.1 – 6.1! – percent.

Some Assembly Democrats are even trying to make the case that this 6.1 percent reduction is a $1.37 billion cut to education. This claim, once you’ve even taken a cursory look at the numbers (pages 9 and 10), is laughably false.

So let’s take a look at the Assembly Committee of the Whole fact sheet on K-12 education spending. Pages 1-7 do a good job describing what’s being proposed and the recent history of K-12 spending, but it’s on page 9 where you can compare total spending amounts.

Education spending in Nevada is governed by the Nevada Plan, and the state’s portion of education funding is directed through the Distributive School Account. The Legislature sets the total spending amount and funds whatever part of that amount is not made up by local taxes.

All that is to say, you can compare the total required state support (including the local dollars) for the 2009-11 biennium to what Gov. Sandoval is proposing for the 2011-13 biennium. This comparison shows how much the DSA (aka state education spending) has increased or decreased. And this is a very accurate way to measure, because it includes both the local and state portions of the DSA.

In the 2009-11 biennium (fiscal years 2010 and 2011), Nevada’s Total Required State Support was $5.02 billion (p. 9). For the 2011-13 biennium (fiscal years 2012 and 2013), Sandoval has proposed Total Required State Support of $4.55 billion (p. 9) plus $161.6 million for school districts in Sandoval’s block grant program (p. 5 and FY 13 only), for a total of $4.71 billion.

That’s a difference of $305 million, or a less than 6.1 percent reduction in total spending and in spending per pupil. (The number of students in Nevada’s schools is estimated to decrease between the 2009-11 biennium and the 2011-13 biennium).

This fact is important to remember for two reasons. First, it’s necessary to refute ridiculous claims, like the one on page 10 of this same document, which claims to show that Sandoval’s proposal contains $1.37 billion of reductions to K-12 education. As shown above, that’s absurd.

Second, if, when the economic forum meets next week, it provides a higher revenue estimate than it did in December 2010, that money isn’t needed to save education from devastating cuts. If the Legislature and the governor want to budget responsibly, that extra money should go to eliminating the two major gimmicks in Sandoval’s budget, the $200 million loan and the $300 million the state wants to take from school district debt service accounts.

While overstating the cuts to K-12 education may be what union bosses want to hear, it’s both dishonest and distracting from what Nevada’s children really need – proven reforms like the ones Florida’s children are benefitting from right now.

Notes for anyone wanting to follow my math on the Assembly Committee of the Whole fact sheet on K-12 education spending p. 9: To find the total spending for the 2009-11 biennium, I combined the spending from the second and fourth columns (2010 Actual and 2011 Estimate as of 12/21/10). To find the total proposed spending for the 2011-13 biennium, I combined the spending from the seventh and eighth columns. The seventh column is mislabeled and should read 2012, not 2013. Funding figures for the block grant in FY 2013 are on p. 5.

Edited (4/28/2011) to clarify where the DSA funding comes from.