Education Funding: Bait and Switch, Switch and Bait

Any time there’s a discussion about economic diversification in this state the topic of education comes to the foreground, and this comment from Steve Hill, Nevada’s economic development point man, is no different:

“But I think what most people are saying – and I know the governor has said this publicly – is that we’d like to see more money go into education as our economy improves. I think the question out there for those who have to make this decision is if we raise taxes, is that going to hurt the economy, and ultimately hurt the amount of revenue we bring in and really not help the school system?” [Vegas Inc]

Take note of the modifiers.  More money should be spent on education “as our economy improves.” Notice also the assumption that raising taxes will ultimately “hurt” our school systems.

There are three things we can count on during discussions of educational funding in Nevada.  One: If we are in a recession then we can’t raise taxes because “people are already hurting.” Two: If we are recovering from a recession we can’t raise taxes because that would jeopardize the recovery.  Three: If we are having a period of growth and prosperity, then we can’t raise taxes because to do so would be to imperil the growth and prosperity.

In short, there will always be an excuse not to increase funding for K-12 education and higher education in Nevada.

Beneath the excuses are some very familiar rationalizations:

(1) The K-12 schools are “failing” and therefore we should augment the resources for privatization in the form of charter or private schools.  This contention is most often wrapped in “parental choice” camouflage covering.  That the proposed choice doesn’t exist in many rural communities, or that the proposed choice is extremely limited in urban ones, doesn’t enter into the discussion often enough.  Nor is it observed often enough that school voucher programs are a way to siphon off public funds for public schools and channel the money to private ones.

(2)  Universities are bastions of liberalism and useless information, and therefore the taxpayers should not be required to fund departments which aren’t “producing.”   The argument is often bedecked with common ad hominem attacks on pointy-headed types with tenure.  This might be the time to recall that if Steve Jobs hadn’t dropped in on a calligraphy course at Reed College the Mac wouldn’t have had all those signature multiple type faces and proportional fonts?  We should also remember that the late great Dr. Sally Ride graduated from Stanford with majors in physics and English.

(3) Public service for serf’s wages.  Evidently, everyone has a favorite elementary or high school teacher who encouraged his or her little pupils to seek success — equally evident among conservative pundits is the notion that such favored people are “self centered greedy” people who put their own economic needs above the welfare of their schools and students.  What we have here is the south bound product of a north bound bull.

Teachers who have to moonlight with second jobs to make ends meet can’t devote their entire efforts toward classroom success.  Young people looking at their economic prospects are discouraged from the teaching profession by the fact of salary schedules that top out at the very point at which remuneration is beginning to be actually rewarding in other fields.

A secondary school teacher in Nevada can expect median wages of $52,380 annually. [DETR] A computer and information system manager can expect to be paid median wages of $100,780. [DETR] Any questions?

In the mean time, there’s no reason to believe that the next few years will be any different from those which have passed before, those in which we’ve fallen for any one of the three major excuses NOT to adequately fund our public educational services in Nevada.

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