The Something For Nothing Crowd in the Nevada Assembly

Nevada Legislature And Nevada’s Assembled Wisdom totters on:

“Remember what happened yesterday. Just after the Senate’s grandiose SB 252 floor vote, the Assembly devolved into pure “TEA” powered madness with constant recesses, shouting matches over those recesses, a floor fight over blatantly unconstitutional bill language, mind-numbing flip-flopping over outrageously discriminatory legislation, and an epic freakout over online sales tax. Are you scared yet? Ralston and others clearly are.” [LTN]

Why are we not surprised?  The bill now goes to the Assembly, in which the ideologically pure (sort of) and constitutionally correct (rarely) will have a whack at the funding for Governor Sandoval’s budget.

“The scariest prospect is that with a third of the session left, the biggest issue before the state has been left in the hands of a body populated by some GOP members who don’t understand policy, who don’t live on the same planet the rest of us do and who are the most embarrassing legislators the state has ever seen.” [Ralston/RGJ]

For those keeping score, Steve Sebelius provided a handy list of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the almost comprehensible measures before said Assembled Wisdom this season. It’s a handy reference.  … Which gets us to the Something For Nothing Crowd.

Consider this release from the Assembly Policy Committee, and its spokesperson Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R-Bundyville):

“With all due respect, much of the governor’s proposal is based on the mistaken idea that the way to fix public education in Nevada is to pump more taxpayer dollars into the existing failed system rather than dramatically reforming that system and providing far more school choice to Nevada parents, including the financial assistance necessary to exercise that choice for low-to-moderate income families.

“That said, the unemployment rate in Nevada remains, as Bill Anderson of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation put it last week, ‘stubbornly high’ at 7.1 percent.  As such, the last thing the Legislature should be doing is taking money out of the private sector, where it’s needed to create jobs, and transferring it to the public sector so that government can continue to spend beyond its means.

“Conservatives in the Nevada State Assembly cannot and will not support  SB252 as passed out of the Senate today.”

Let us Parse. First, nothing good ever happens after someone begins with “with all due respect.”  Thence to the heart of the matter – the old privatization refrain, which goes back to the 1874 Kalamazoo Case.

“Kalamazoo Union High School, which many believed to be a necessity for bridging the gap from common school to university, operated with some minor opposition, until 1873. In January of that year, three prominent Kalamazoo property owners filed a suit intended to prevent the school board from funding the high school with tax money. They argued that the 1859 state law had been violated when the high school was established without a vote of the taxpayers. Charles E. Stuart, a former United States Senator from Michigan, along with Theodore P. Sheldon and Henry Brees, initiated the suit. At the time, it was believed to be a “friendly” suit intended to settle the issue legally in favor of the school. However, Stuart’s comments to the Kalamazoo Board of Education years after the suit had been settled, suggest that he and his companions sincerely resented the tax burden that the public high school placed on them. Stuart, like many others of his time, believed that a common school education was sufficient for anyone, and anything beyond that should be paid for privately.” [KPL]

The School Board prevailed in the 1874 litigation, and thus we have public funding for education k-12. [MLive]  The fact that if a school board is charged with administering a k-12 system then it must have the funding to do so raises the second portion of the argument – the part concerning the level of that financial support.

Enter the Something For Nothing Crowd.  What else explains the phrase: “fix public education in Nevada is to pump more taxpayer dollars into the existing failed system rather than dramatically reforming…?” This statement assumes (1) the current level of funding is adequate, or perhaps less is necessary; (2) the schools are failing with the present level of funding and therefore no additional funding is desireable; and, (3) the system needs to be “fixed.”

None of these assumptions can be asserted without challenge.  The first problem is the general issue of the Disappearing Dollars often cited by conservatives. The notion of “pumping in” dollars infers that the dollars are a measure of educational support in themselves.  The concept is a great leap to a highly ideologically framed conclusion.  No. money doesn’t solve educational issues but it does purchase: The services of highly qualified personnel, specialists, aides and assistants, and administrators; school physical facilities, books, libraries, equipment, supplies, etc. 

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Something For Nothing Crowd is channeling the spirit of Charles E. Stuart from the 19th century – if a family wants a better education for their children they should pay for it themselves.  Witness: “dramatically reforming that system and providing far more school choice to Nevada parents, including the financial assistance necessary to exercise that choice for low-to-moderate income families.”   The translation is fairly simple.  School choice equates to a voucher system for attendance at private schools. and “far more schools” usually equates to the establishment of private charter operations.

We’ve touched on the rationales for this thinking before:

“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. [DB 2012]

In addition to the questionable rational for the conservative philosophy as it pertains to public education, there’s the problem of educational standards. What’s “failing?”

The most common measurement of “educational attainment” and the one most often cited by conservatives is standardized test scores.  Standardized testing has its uses.  However, placing them at the center of the argument is to risk overemphasizing their usefulness:

“We can stipulate that most tests manufactured for use in public schools by major publishing houses are statistically reliable and generally statistically valid. What we cannot say with any statistical certainty is whether or not we are measuring what we value in public education.” [DB 2011]

We appear “not to test well” and there may be some valid reasons for that, such as the generally low salaries for teachers, “Teacher salaries have a huge impact when it comes to attracting good instructors. The innovative, smart, highly skilled people you want teaching your kids aren’t exactly in love with the idea of making $38,000 per year (the average for first-year high school teachers) when they could go somewhere else and earn more while doing less.” [ABC]

Or perhaps we should place greater emphasis on early childhood education: “

The OECD found in a separate study that 15-year-olds who had attended at least a year of preschool performed better on reading tests than kids who had not, even when socioeconomic factors were taken into account.  The U.S. spends more on preschool than other countries but money doesn’t do any good unless kids are enrolled, and the U.S. lags on that measure.” [ABC]

The ASCD offers an enlightening summation:

“For several important reasons, standardized achievement tests should not be used to judge the quality of education. The overarching reason that students’ scores on these tests do not provide an accurate index of educational effectiveness is that any inference about educational quality made on the basis of students’ standardized achievement test performances is apt to be invalid.

Employing standardized achievement tests to ascertain educational quality is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon. Tablespoons have a different measurement mission than indicating how hot or cold something is. Standardized achievement tests have a different measurement mission than indicating how good or bad a school is. Standardized achievement tests should be used to make the comparative interpretations that they were intended to provide. They should not be used to judge educational quality.”

Even if we do apply standardized test score to measure “temperature with a tablespoon” there’s no guarantee that the privatized or charter schools will achieve better results.

Researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes looked at test data from charter schools in 26 states and the District and found that 25 percent of charters outperformed traditional public schools in reading while 29 percent of charters delivered stronger results in math. That marked an improvement over a similar 2009 study by the same research team.

But 56 percent of the charters produced no significant difference in reading and 19 percent had worse results than traditional public schools. In math, 40 percent produced no significant difference and 31 percent were significantly worse than regular public schools. [WaPo]

So, we have the Something For Nothing Crowd in the Nevada Assembly decrying the essence of the Governor’s budget for education with all the old clichés from time gone by, and the tautological statement that if an underfunded school is failing the way to make it better is to further cut its funding.

We can only hope that after the tempers, the tantrums, the protestations, the gnashing of teeth, and the rending of cloth the membership of the Nevada Assembly will manage some form of civility and citizenship, and recognize another time honored statement – You Get What You Pay For.

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