Category Archives: nevada education

Yerington HS Illustrates The Problem: Racism in Trumpland

Lyon County, Nevada (county seat Yerington) gave 67.36% of its votes to Donald Trump for the presidency in 2016– a deep red vote in an otherwise urban blue state. [SoSNV] It would be nice to speak of Nevada as a tolerant blue state, but while Nevada is about 94.2% urban [ISU.edu] there are large portions (in terms of landscape) which are deeply rural and deeply bigoted.  Witness the reports of bullying non-white students at Yerington High School, as reported in the Reno Gazette Journal.

A Bit of Background

Lyon County is located east of the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area, and the largest population in the northern end of the county is located in and in proximity to Fernley (± 20,000)  There are approximately 54,000 residents in Lyon County. [Census] Yerington is home to about 3,071 of the county’s residents, and approximately 80% are white, 18% are Hispanic, about 6% are Native American, and 8% are “other” which includes African American.  [Substat]  “Others” are among those having a hard time in Yerington.

“Photos of a Lyon County sheriff’s deputy’s son holding a gun and wearing a belt with knives were posted on social media. Superimposed over the photos were the words “The red neck god of all gods … we bout to go (racial slur) huntin,” and “Watch out (racial slur).”

It is unclear whether the deputy’s son or friends wrote the comments, but it was enough to scare Taylissa and Jayla as dozens of classmates began forwarding the girls the posts.

Taylissa and Jayla stayed home from school the next day.  They filled out police reports. They worried when they went outside.” [RGJ]

  And then — nothing happened.

The mayor dismissed the social media posts as examples of teenage immaturity.  The chief of police said they were examples of Free Speech.  The principal of the high school says the school needs to have a “unity day.” The county superintendent of schools said school authorities were having a hard time controlling the situation.  Some residents said things were cooling off until “reporters started asking questions and stirring things up.”  If you’re thinking these perspectives could just as easily be associated with the heart of Jim Crow Dixieland, you’d be right.

In beautiful downtown Yerington there seems to be a safe zone for bullies, in spite of state legislation specifically prohibiting such conduct:

     “NRS 388.135Bullying and cyber-bullying prohibited.  A member of the board of trustees of a school district, any employee of the board of trustees, including, without limitation, an administrator, principal, teacher or other staff member, a member of a club or organization which uses the facilities of any public school, regardless of whether the club or organization has any connection to the school, or any pupil shall not engage in bullying or cyber-bullying on the premises of any public school, at an activity sponsored by a public school or on any school bus.”

So, NO the incident wasn’t a matter of “free speech,” the offensive postings were a direct violation of NRS 388.135.   Nor is there much evidence in the reporting that the local police and school district authorities paid much attention to the provisions of NRS 388.1351 in which specific directives are set forth for dealing with bullying and cyber-bulling.

And when a parent did try to meet with school officials, the following is hardly exemplary of compliance with Nevada statutes:

“On one of the occasions Charles Tolliver went to the school to try to meet with administrators, a student standing with a group of girls said to him, “You don’t even know the definition of (racial slur).”

“If you ever call my daughters (racial slurs) …”  he said before stopping himself.

After repeated requests for help had been ignored, Tolliver said, he called the principal a bigot.

School officials have accused Tolliver of being hostile and aggressive. He was given a trespass warning and is only allowed on school grounds with prior permission.

“… you interacted with me as well as Yerington High School students in a hostile, aggressive and threatening manner, resulting in the contacting of law enforcement,” the trespass notice from Principal Mattice said.” [RGJ]

Thus, the step-parent who sought to meet with a principal over repeated instances of bullying is met with surly students, an unhelpful principal, and then becomes the designated villain of the story according to Lyon County school officials.  Quite evidently, Lyon County has done what it must according to State law, it has all the right words on paper (pdf) — it just chooses not to enforce its own policies.  One might want to ask if the principal “investigated” incidents of blocked doorways, jammed doors, hate speech, and racial epithets within one day of a report, as required by school district policy?

There’s no need to be tactful about this situation.  First, the youngsters spouting hateful epithets and blocking doorways didn’t come into this world as little bigots.  They learned it somewhere and that somewhere is nearly always at home.  Secondly, their peers are obviously supportive. Few adolescents will do much which doesn’t comport with peer pressure.  Schools are supposed to have a socializing effect, i.e. negative attitudes and prejudices which come from home and are supported by some peers are to be addressed and rectified if at all possible.  It is not the responsibility of a school to make bigots feel comfortable.  However, this is made more difficult when…

(i) We have a president who says there were very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville, VA when one side was composed of white nationalist supremacist bigots and thugs.

(ii) We have a situation in which the Attorney General of the US who has decimated the capacity of that agency to supervise state and local official interactions with members of minority communities — “it’s a local problem.”

(iii) We have an environment in which local officials are allowed to ignore, dismiss, or diminish incidents of racial bigotry and prejudice without serious consequences.

(iv) We have social norms and values being curtly disdained as “political correctness,” with a slurring of the “s” sound at the end.

In short what we have at Yerington High School is a classic example of what happens when an atmosphere of racial division, with whites on the top of the divide, meets two girls whose parents don’t appreciate having their daughters referred to by the N-word. However, what might we expect in Yerington, in the heart of Nevada’s Trumpland?

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GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Fastens Onto Public Funds For Private Schools

Nevada gubernatorial candidate Dan Schwartz has planted his pennon securely on the so-called “Educational Savings Account” hill.  [RGJ] Schwartz’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned even though ESAs are of highly questionable constitutionality.

“Schwartz, a Republican who currently holds the office of state treasurer, told reporters in Las Vegas while announcing his candidacy that, if elected, he would not sign any bills from the Legislature without first seeing an “acceptable” ESA bill on his desk.” [RGJ]

The ESA program failed to secure enough support for enhancement in the last session of the legislature, which instead enacted tax credits for scholarships.  The “school choice” advocates saw this as a blow to their advocacy goals — specifically to the proposition that private schools are ‘better’ than public ones.  Perhaps it’s time to review the issues raised by the opponents?

The narrative, as framed by the proponents, is that private education is (1) better and (2) parents should have a choice to send their children to private schools.  The first proposition is dubious.  Private schools do send more of their students to college, but the reason may well be (and often is) that the schools themselves are selective in the first place.  When considering NCES reports on achievement the following caveat is of extreme importance, which is why it is reprinted here in full:

“When interpreting the results from any of these analyses, it should be borne in mind that private schools constitute a heterogeneous category and may differ from one another as much as they differ from public schools. Public schools also constitute a heterogeneous category. Consequently, an overall comparison of the two types of schools is of modest utility. The more focused comparisons conducted as part of this study may be of greater value. However, interpretations of the results should take into account the variability due to the relatively small sizes of the samples drawn from each category of private school, as well as the possible bias introduced by the differential participation rates across private school categories.

There are a number of other caveats. First, the conclusions pertain to national estimates. Results based on a survey of schools in a particular jurisdiction may differ. Second, the data are obtained from an observational study rather than a randomized experiment, so the estimated effects should not be interpreted in terms of causal relationships. In particular, private schools are “schools of choice.” Without further information, such as measures of prior achievement, there is no way to determine how patterns of self-selection may have affected the estimates presented. That is, the estimates of the average difference in school mean scores are confounded with average differences in the student populations, which are not fully captured by the selected student characteristics employed in this analysis.”  (emphasis added)

Those “patterns of self-selection” are “not fully captured” when the results of testing are reported, or this can be stated as: How private schools select attendees and the population from which they are drawn leaves some wide open questions about the conclusions offered on the effectiveness of instruction in private vs. public schools.

Secondly, the notion that there is no “school choice” at present is misleading in itself.  There is school choice, any parent may send a child to a public school, a private school, or choose to home school — the question is who pays for this.  What the “choice advocates” are saying is that taxpayers should fund the choice of a family to send children to private schools. A tangential argument is often raised that we should ‘expand the number of families who can choose to send children to private schools.’  Left unspoken are some of the practical issues — private schools can limit their enrollment, and if enrollment is limited then what of that “choice” being offered to their parents? Unlike public schools, private ones may select who is accepted for enrollment.  The decision not to offer special educations services is essentially self-selective.  There are some rural areas in which private education at the elementary and secondary level is non-existent or very limited.  In these instances there are few if any choices to be had.  Previous posts, here and here have addressed this issue in more detail.  (See also “Testing Turmoil,” and more on Schwartz’s previous advocacy here.)

Schwartz appears ready to ride this well worn draft horse throughout the campaign season.  It has some appeal — to those who sincerely wish to provide a religiously based curriculum for their offspring as well as to those who sincerely wish their children didn’t have to attend schools with members of other communities with whom they have little in common.  Compared to the economy, taxation, and other more relevant issues, this isn’t usually at the top of any voter’s list of primary concerns and Schwartz’s selection of it is more dog whistle (to ultra-conservatives) than a bull horn to the majority of Nevada voters.

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The Privatization Scam Continues: Clark County Schools Version

“Five Clark County schools are still in the running to partner with charter operators as part of the new, controversial Achievement School District after a state Board of Education meeting Thursday.

From a list of nine, state board members removed four middle schools, citing those schools’ higher ratings on the state star system. The final decision of which schools will be in the inaugural run will be decided by achievement district officials before Feb. 1.”  [LVRJ]

Background

According to the Nevada Department of Education the Achievement School District has the following task:

The Nevada Achievement School District exists to partner with communities to provide vibrant, high-quality, in-neighborhood alternatives for students in the State’s underperforming schools in order to strengthen the educated, healthy citizenry across the State. Our purpose is critical: to provide students in persistently struggling public schools with the opportunity to attain an education that will prepare them to be college, career and community ready. Currently, over 57,000 students in Nevada attend persistently struggling schools. We must reduce that number; and, we will work to do so by recruiting excellent educators and empowering them to partner with neighborhoods to transform the educational experiences of these students. [DoENV]

Translation: The Department of Education would like to find private sector “operators” to take over the management of “struggling” schools.  Applicants are asked to contact Jana Wilcox Lavin, whose background is in marketing.  Leaving a person to ask what qualifications she might have as the “superintendent” of a school district with a BA from Tulane and an MA in Integrated Marketing Communication from Emerson College.  Not that those aren’t fine institutions, but exactly how this prepares a graduate and board member of a college prep boarding school in Connecticut (Hotchkiss) to run a charter system isn’t all that clear.  As a prep school product I’m not knocking the prep part, but there’s no Public in Hotchkiss, Tulane, or Emerson.  As close as Wilcox-Lavin has come to the Public part of the equation may be a stint as the executive director for a charter school operator in Memphis, TN.

Last August, the Comptroller of the State of Tennessee released its audit of the TN Achievement School District, and was less than pleased.  Among the findings:

“The first comprehensive performance audit of the state-run Achievement School District shows a lack of adequate control over processes in human resources and payroll, including reimbursement of excessive travel claims and payments for alcohol at an office celebration.”

According to the audit, the ASD, which operates 31 schools in Memphis and two in Nashville, failed to verify the education credentials of central office staff, and employees were able to approve their own travel expenses. Inadequate procedures for departing employees also resulted in overpayment of salary and benefits, according to the audit.

The audit states that management did not properly approve nine expenditure transactions totaling $83,363 and seven travel claims totaling $2,460.

Claims deemed “excessive” by the audit included a $698 expense for a single day of transportation services to drive the deputy superintendent from Nashville to Memphis and a $2,500 holiday party held at the Sheraton Hotel in Memphis for all ASD schools and staff and to recognize outgoing superintendent Chris Barbic.  “The event included expensive finger foods, alcohol, and a bartender,” the audit states.

In addition, “in recognition of ASD school leaders and support staff, management purchased $1,631 of alcohol using a purchasing card and charged the expense to Charter School Grant Funding, a private grant that provides restricted funding for operating expenses for school year 2015-16 Achievement Schools … .”  [Tennessean]

Perhaps someone with some public school experience might have guessed that spending $1,631 on booze probably wasn’t going to be met with applause in Tennessee.   “Inadequate internal controls” is an accountant’s polite way of saying that there’s no way to effectively monitor spending and control waste, fraud, and abuse.  Tennessee’s ASD lacked adequate “internal controls.”

“The Achievement School District’s management did not establish adequate controls over several key human resources and payroll processes
According to Section 49-1-614 (g) (1), Tennessee Code Annotated, “The ASD [Achievement School District] shall develop written procedures, subject to the approval of the commissioner, for employment and management of personnel as well as the development of compensation and benefit plans.” During our audit, we found seven key areas where ASD did not establish processes over key human resources and payroll functions, including segregating duties; maintaining personnel files; verifying education credentials; documenting time and attendance; completing performance reviews; documenting approvals of bonuses and pay raises; and exiting employees (see page 14).” The full report is available at this link as a PDF.

In a word – ouch.  With a performance audit such as this it’s hard to understand why Nevada would tout conformance with the Tennessee Achievement School District model?

Then there’s the What Do You Get For The Money question?

A 2015 study by Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College frankly didn’t find much in the way of significant progress among the students, finding more in locally operated “i-Zone” schools.  [Full report here pdf]  There were “small positive effects in math and science; overall the “i-Zone” schools had moderate to larger positive effects in reading, math, and science. “Overall ASD schools did not gain more or less than other priority schools that were in an “i-Zone.” [Vanderbilt pdf]  The TN ASD pleaded for “patience.” [Nashville NPR]

However, let’s not focus on Tennessee’s ASD to the exclusion of taking a more attentive look at the charter operators approved to function in Nevada.   Three were selected in November 2016:  Democracy Prep Public Schools, Futuro Academy, and Celerity Schools. [LVRJ]   Of the three, Celerity, granted conditional approval, is subject to the most questions.

On October 18, 2016 The Los Angeles Unified School District board revoked the charters of Celerity schools citing  “severe concerns about oversight and transparency from the parent company, Celerity Global…” [CBS]  More specifically, the Board was concerned about:

…Celerity, though a review of correspondence indicates the district is interested in three corporate entities closely linked with the school group. Officials appear to be concerned about conflicts of interest and whether senior officials inappropriately enriched themselves.

…The district faults both organizations for not providing requested documents to investigators. Their listed deficiencies will include incomplete descriptions of job duties and of suspension and expulsion procedures. [LATimes]

Tangled Alliances and Corporate Complexity?

If the LAUSD is concerned about transparency in Celerity Schools management, the Celerity Global home page doesn’t offer much in the way of information.  The Who We Are links describe services, not management or other personnel associated with the organization.  A bit of digging yields that the Chief Operating Officer is Vielka McFarlane, Los Angeles, CA.  Craig Knotts is listed as Regional Vice President (Louisiana), Kendal Turner is listed as CFO (CA) (AR app 2016).  Board members are listed here – none of whom have a background in education.

We can easily discover that McFarlane’s compensation for 2012 totaled $438,730.00 (990 part VII(a)); her compensation for 2015 is given as $227,306, with another $13,332 compensation for the “organization and related organizations.”  Celerity Global Development (501c(3)) reported assets of $11,127,842 in June 2014, and income of $10,834,558 as of June 30, 2014. [Guidestar] Other information on the form is either not digitized or not available.  Digging down to the pdf filing with the IRS, the 990 for 2015 lists associated contractors as Savantco Education (Los Angeles, CA) which provided “business management services” for $478,320 in compensation and CSMC, Temecula, CA which received another $288,600 in compensation for “business management services.”

Savantco  Education offers human resources, accounting, attendance accounting, business consulting and training, and grant writing as part of its services.  It is related to Savantco Financial and Savantco Global Enterprise. [CA registry]  Savantco has not been without its controversies, and one implosion in San Bernardino County, CA:

“On November 23, 2015, the Morongo Unified School District superintendent wrote a letter to the superintendent of the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools expressing concerns regarding conflict of interest. The concern focused on the involvement of the former superintendent/executive director of Hope Academy serving as a majority owner in SavantCo Education, the charter school’s back-office service provider. The master services agreement with the academy called for SavantCo Education providing finance, accounting and payroll services, business consulting, board meeting support, attendance and student information system management, charter development, grant administration, as well as financing support.
According to the auditors with the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, Mecham, while yet serving as charter school superintendent, used Hope Academy’s relationship with SavantCo Education to reap hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit for himself and his wife.”  [SBCS]

CMSC is the Charter School Management Company, “CSMC is the nation’s premier business back-office provider to charter schools. We are committed to helping charter schools overcome the challenges they face by offering our expertise and solutions at an affordable price. Our charter school services include charter development, payroll, governance, finance, back-office, and a full range of business services.”

And, with contractors providing back office services we find more potential for a lack of – as the accountants say — “internal controls.”  The Inspector General’s Report (2016) on its review of charter school management wasn’t pretty, as evidenced in this chilling finding:

“We determined that charter school relationships with CMOs posed a significant risk to Department program objectives. Specifically, we found that 22 of the 33 charter schools in our review had 36 examples of internal control weaknesses related to the charter schools’ relationships with their CMOs (concerning conflicts of interest, related-party transactions, and insufficient segregation of duties).5 See Appendix 1 for details regarding the State summaries of 6 States and 33 charter schools we reviewed. We concluded that these examples of internal control weaknesses represent the following significant risks to Department program objectives: (1) financial risk, which is the risk of waste, fraud, and abuse; (2) lack of accountability over Federal funds, which is the risk that, as a result of charter school boards ceding fiscal authority to CMOs, charter school stakeholders (the authorizer, State educational agency (SEA), and Department) may not have accountability over Federal funds sufficient to ensure compliance with Federal requirements; and (3) performance risk, which is the risk that the charter school stakeholders may not have sufficient assurance that charter schools are implementing Federal programs in accordance with Federal requirements.” [Ed.gov. Inspector General/ pdf]

The Inspector General determined that not only did the schools, school districts, and states not have sufficient safeguards in place to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse, but that the Federal agency wasn’t prepared to fully audit and monitor this potential as well.  [Full report here IG/DoE pdf]

The Bottom Line

Nevada would do well to curb its enthusiasm about the expansion of charter schools in this state.

There is ample room to question the results of the experiment in Tennessee.  The gains have been small when compared to the expenditures involved. Further, for those who are concerned with waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer money – either state or federal – there are far too many examples of just such waste, fraud, and abuse by entirely too many non-profit organizations to lull any sentient observer into complacency.

Nevada officials are correct in being very careful of the corporate entanglements of management companies and charter school managers and operators.  California officials are correct in weighing the fiscal management of charter operators and questioning the corporate relationships between school and business operations.   There is no excuse for a “lack of internal controls,” these practices create havoc in both our public and private sectors, and any bid by any charter operator should satisfy the most detail oriented accountant.

Those who call for the mitigation of waste, fraud, and abuse; and, who clamor for transparency and accountability must demand that public funds used for any “Achievement School District” or charter operation be fully and completely audited – and the results available for public scrutiny.

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Friday Didjah Know?

Didja Hear Maybe “I Regret” wasn’t enough?MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren announced on Monday that, despite being a lifelong Republican, he is backing Democrat Hillary Clinton for president. Murren has never publicly endorsed a candidate before but said that he felt he needed to lend his voice to “some of the bigger issues” this election cycle after an “accumulation of vitriol” from Trump.” Full article at the Las Vegas Sun.

Those Naked Truth Statues are products of a Las Vegas artist.  Well done sir! And, a hand clap to the now famous line from the NYC Parks Department: “NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small,” parks spokesman Sam Biederman joked.”

The Nevada Board of Examiners has approved another $125,000 to an outside law firm (Bancroft Associates – Paul Clement) to defend the public school fund gutting voucher education program. The firm has already gotten $420,000 from Nevada and the recent increase will mean a $545,000 total payout. [LVSun]  This would be the same Paul Clement whose firm has been tapped by North Carolina Republican leadership to appeal the NC Voter ID law targeting African Americans.

Former solicitor general during the Bush administration, and current professor at Georgetown Law School, Clement has spent much of the Obama administration working with conservatives on several prominent Supreme Court cases, including arguing in favor of overturning the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), fighting to preserve the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and helping Arizona defend its controversial immigration law. Clement won the Hobby Lobby case at the Supreme Court for religious conservatives. [TNCRM]

The Smoking Gun Memo from North Carolina Republicans isn’t going to make Clement’s task any easier.

Yes, Donald Trump is now running adsa new Dog Whistle to the Far Right. Did we expect anything else?  Thus much for the pivot, unless by “pivot” means a 360 degree turn. By the way, the ad offers up an Old Hoary GOP line about undocumented immigrants soaking up Social Security Benefits – they don’t. This talking point has been floating around since at least the 2006 mid term elections.  Ten years of the same lie is enough! [factcheck]

An Hispanic couple’s truck was vandalized in northwest Reno (can you guess what happened?) “A Hispanic couple’s truck was vandalized Wednesday night in Northwest Reno with graffiti including Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s name, in what one of the victims said was a hate crime.”

“Esmeralda Estrada, 31, of Reno, said the truck, which is only about two months old, was fine when she and her husband went to sleep around 10 p.m. Wednesday. When they woke up Thursday, it was keyed several times, including the word “Trump” scratched into the side. The tailgate was also spray-painted with “VOTE TRUMP.” [RGJ]

The Estrada’s are the only Hispanic couple in the neighborhood.

Trump and Entourage arrived in Baton Rouge, LA and was met by GOP office holders. They met with volunteers at a church which had been cooking meals for displaced persons.  [AP] The GOP has slammed the President for not appearing, however “Louisiana’s Democratic governor defended the administration’s response Thursday, saying he has spoken daily with the White House and would prefer Obama hold off on visiting because such stops pull local police and first responders into providing security.” [AP]  Nothing like barging in?

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Grab the Money and Go: Nevada School Funding Case Scheduled

Turkey

It’s a turkey, no matter how one looks at it – the proposal for parents to be able to grab public money for “private” education in the state of Nevada and run off to do heaven only knows what with it.  And, now the case comes to the courts.  [LVRJ]

“The law passed by the Republican-controlled 2015 Legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval allows parents to set up education savings accounts to receive a portion of state per-pupil funding and use the money, about $5,100 annually, to send their children to private school or pay for other educational options. The program, administered by the state treasurer’s office, has received more than 6,000 applications.

A group of parents sued in Carson City, arguing it will illegally divert money from public schools. A Carson City judge in January agreed and issued an injunction.

The ACLU challenged the law on separate grounds, claiming it violates a constitutional prohibition against using money for sectarian purposes. A Clark County judge last month rejected those arguments and upheld the law.” [LVRJ]

I’m not at all sure why the ACLU case didn’t have a better outcome, because the Nevada Constitution is very clear about prohibiting public funds for sectarian use.   Additionally, I’m a bit fogged about why the ultra-conservatives in Nevada would want to allow funds for potentially radical religious instruction of any stripe.  There’s a question here – would these same people be so supportive if the private school receiving the money were, say, a madrasah?

And, it’s notable that we aren’t talking about peanuts here.  If 6,000 families each grab $5,100 every year from taxpayer funds for private schooling, then we’re speaking of some $30,600,000, or $61,200,000 for the biennium.

If  the idea is to bankrupt public education and then privatize the remnants, this is a perfect formula.  Complain that the public schools are not performing to some artificially established standard, then promote the creation of private schools, followed hard by the transfer of funds away from public education into those private “reformers,” and perpetuate the cycle of under-funded public  schools trying to compete with corporation sponsored private ones.  There’s no way for the public schools to win, and that’s precisely what the privatizers have in mind.

Stay tuned, the Nevada Supreme Court will hear the case on July 29, 2016.

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Kids and Cattle: Washoe County School Bond Issue

cattle grazing The concept of an AUM is well understood in northern Nevada, that’s the Animal Unit Month, or the amount of forage needed for one cow and calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for one month. The current grazing fee for 2016 is $2.11 per AUM.  Further, not all grazing land is created equal. First class produces enough feed on 4 acres or less for one grown cow. Second class during an average year produces enough feed on 4 to 6 acres for a grown cow. Third class during an average year will sustain a grown cow on 6 to 12 acres, and fourth class during an average  year produces enough feed on 12 acres or more for one grown cow (1/12 or less animal units per month.) [AgBulletin pdf]  The point here is that good grazing land sustains one animal/month on four acres.  Would that we were this concerned about our children.

School crowding The Washoe County School District announced that there are several schools in the Reno/Sparks area which are on pace to require double sessions and year round scheduling to meet their demands.  There are eight schools hovering near the “trigger.”

“Tuesday’s trigger, detailed in Regulation 6111, puts middle and high schools on double sessions once they exceed campus capacity by 20 percent. Portable classrooms are not counted in these campus capacities.

No schools meet the trigger, yet. But four middle schools and four high schools are projected to get there over the next five years. All these schools are already over capacity or near it.”  [RGJ]

squeeze chute Not that children and cattle are analogous, but we do recognize that cattle need at least a minimum amount of space for grazing while the file photo shot from the Reno Gazette Journal above seems to indicate that a few squeeze chutes might be handy for funneling the little calves into their classrooms.  Might be handy? We could vaccinate them while they’re in the chutes? Check their vital signs? Wash and brush them if necessary? Check for medical and dental problems?

Back to the serious side for the moment – The Washoe County School District is asking voters to support a bond issue in the next election for capital improvements and renovations.  

“The committee based its requested increase on tax revenue projections, which would allow the district to issue $781 million in bonds over the next decade for school renovations and new campuses. District officials have said $781 million is what they need to meet demands of student enrollment forecasts. The district would pay off the bonds over 20 years using proceeds of the sales tax increase.” [RGJ]

There are always excuses for a “no vote.”  Some people would vote “no” on any proposal if it requires a penny more in sales or property taxes.   This, in spite of the fact that northern Nevada has one of the lowest tax burdens in the entire country:

“As compared to other major cities around the country, Reno property tax rates are some of the lowest in the United States at an effective rate of about a dollar per $100 of assessed value. While supporting an especially high sales tax rate of 7.75%, much of that bite is ameliorated by the fact that Nevada only taxes 37.4% of its goods at sale. Further savings are found in a state tax code that allows for the deductions of state and local sales tax payments.” [movoto]

Those facts won’t prevent some people from loudly complaining, “They’re Taxed Enough Already.”  Then, there’s the always provocative and ever annoying, “Why should I pay for someone else’s kids?”   Gee, I don’t know, perhaps it’s because we don’t want to be known as the Land That Education Forgot, populated with the ignorant and ill-educated.  Or, the antagonizing, “The Schools waste money on _____________.” Fill in that blank with, say, “administration,” or “football fields,” or any other convenient complaint.

Another obstacle is the “alternative” suggestions popping up before election day.  “Why don’t we have year round schools?” Or, “Why don’t we do double sessions and year round schedules?”  The only one I haven’t heard yet is for about $1700 a school could install a squeeze chute to handle the crowding in the hallways —

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100 Days, ESAs and Sectarian Education in Nevada

Sectarianism There was this announcement from the State Treasurer’s Office this past August regarding the eligibility of homeschooled students to qualify for the school voucher (ESA).

“The Treasurer’s Office has been notified by the Nevada Department of Education that pursuant to NRS 388.850, a private school or “home school” student may not participate in a program of distance education (online class) to satisfy the 100 school day requirement. Nevada Revised Statute 388.850 prevents a private school or “home school” student from enrolling in a program of distance education (online class). However, a private school or “home school” student may qualify for an ESA by taking one or more classes in a public or charter school, pursuant to NRS 386.580(5) and 392.070(3).” [NPRI]

Thus, a child can be enrolled in a public or state chartered school for 100 days, then be eligible for a voucher to pay for homeschooling curricula.  And, here we run into some problems – or, perhaps one big problem. Sectarian classroom materials.

Sectarianism is mentioned seven times in the Nevada Constitution. The first reference comes in Article II, and the fundamentals are clear as a bell.   “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year, and any school district which shall allow instruction of a sectarian character therein may be deprived of its proportion of the interest of the public school fund during such neglect or infraction, and the legislature may pass such laws as will tend to secure a general attendance of the children in each school district upon said public schools.”

[Amended in 1938. Proposed and passed by the 1935 legislature; agreed to and passed by the 1937 legislature; and approved and ratified by the people at the 1938 general election. See: Statutes of Nevada 1935, p. 440; Statutes of Nevada 1937, p. 550.]

In  Section 9:  “Sectarian instruction prohibited in common schools and university.  No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or University that may be established under this Constitution.”

And Section 10: “No public money to be used for sectarian purposes.  No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”

Home Sweet Home

In the home-school proponent perspective, a child who enrolls in 100 days of online (homeschool/distance) education should be eligible for ESA grants.  However, what distance learning or home-school curricula matters.  Thus, we’d have to ask if an ESA grant may be used to pay for sectarian home-school curricula and support materials?   If we look to Article II, sections 9 and 10, the answer appears to be a resounding NO.

The parent of a  child who is to be home-schooled must submit an “educational plan” for the child in order to be exempt from state mandatory attendance laws.  And:

“No regulation or policy of the State Board, any school district or any other governmental entity may infringe upon the right of a parent to educate his child based on religious preference unless it is:

  1. Essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and
  2. The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” [NHSN]

Okay, a parent may choose to home-school a child, using a religious curriculum, without discrimination.  The question becomes: Can the state funds be used to pay for it?

So far the parent may choose any curriculum – the district cannot discriminate based on religious affiliation – and who pays for the Stuff?

Stuff from Abeka K-12? Their 8th grade science book explains:

“From earthquakes and volcanoes to clouds and galaxies, show your child the features of God’s Creation here on earth as well as the Great Beyond with Science: Earth and Space! This textbook guides your child through a study of geology, oceanography, meteorology, astronomy, and environmental science. A thorough study of rocks, soil, and fossils will give your child ample proofs that this earth was created by God and not evolutionary processes.”

In brief, the last time I looked such an explanation was described as “creationism,” and “creationism” isn’t science, it’s theology.  Perhaps some materials from Bob Jones University Press?  Right off the bat the website tells us, “We want students to think, so we use inductive teaching, discovery activities, and probing discussion questions to develop thinking skills.”   Let’s step back a moment, there’s inductive and deductive reasoning; and, inductive reasoning makes broad generalizations from specific observations.  By contrast deductive reasoning, the basis for most science, proposes an hypothesis and then tests observations. [LiveSci] Inductive reasoning is used in the crafting of theories and hypotheses, after which deductive reasoning is appropriate for testing those theories.  So, if we’re going to start and stop with inductive instruction we won’t get to the part where the evidence is truly tested?  However, there’s more, as the Bob Jones University curriculum describes its Biblically based instructional mission:

“The Bible teaches that in the Fall, human cognition and affection became broken. Verses like Jeremiah 17:9 and I Corinthians 2:14 teach that the fallen human mind cannot understand the world the way it was meant to be understood. Proverbs 1:7 teaches that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Here we learn that proper affection (“fear”) for God is the key to proper cognition (“knowledge”) regarding His world.”  […]

Good biblical integration has not happened until the student learns how the Bible is relevant to the subject at hand. This involves three levels of effort.

“In Level 1 biblical integration, the Bible is referenced while the subject is being taught, using biblical analogies or examples. In Level 2, the teacher shows the student how the Bible should guide him as he applies the academic discipline to real-life situations. The final level focuses on rebuilding the academics for the glory of God. Remembering the fallenness of the human mind, the teacher should call into question the secular assumptions of each subject and then encourage the student to rebuild the discipline from biblical presuppositions. The work of Christian education is the work of redeeming what has fallen.  We study all aspects of human culture because we see in that study the potential for redemption. As we view the academics through the lens of Scripture, we learn how we may be used to redeem those disciplines back to God.” [BJUpress]

If this isn’t sectarian, then I’m really not sure what would be.  To cut this bit short before it becomes a litany of examples of sectarian based instruction readily available from all manner of sources, and ranging widely in terms of quality, it’s fair to ask if a home-schooling parent should be remunerated for materials and supplies which teach creationism and centralize “redemption” as a focus of instruction?

Of course, there’s the other side of the issue – there are other religions which provide instructional materials – the Islamic Bookstore devotes a page to materials geared for young people, from pre-school to grade six.  One quick Google and you can find support groups for humanist and atheist home-schooling parents.  Seriously pagan or Wiccan? There’s a page for that too.

Meanwhile back at the Establishment Clause

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

Somewhat lost in all the recent rhetoric about “religious Freedom,” are the two pieces related to “religious liberty” incorporated in the First Amendment. Fundamental to understanding the first part, or the Establishment Clause, is the nature of the word “respecting:”

“The first of the First Amendment’s two religion clauses reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … .” Note that the clause is absolute. It allows no law. It is also noteworthy that the clause forbids more than the establishment of religion by the government. It forbids even laws respecting an establishment of religion. The establishment clause sets up a line of demarcation between the functions and operations of the institutions of religion and government in our society. It does so because the framers of the First Amendment recognized that when the roles of the government and religion are intertwined, the result too often has been bloodshed or oppression.”  [1st AmdCent]

Witness: the wars associated with the Reformation – the German Peasants’ War (1524-1525); the battle of Kappel (Switzerland 1531); the Schmalkaldic War (Holy Roman Empire 1546-1547); and then we move on to the Eighty Years War in the Low Countries (1568-1648), the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) and the Thirty Years War (Holy Roman Empire, Austria, Bohemia, France, Denmark, Sweden (1618-1648).    Not that the British Isles escaped the religiously based slaughter – there was the Scottish Reformation and attendant civil wars; and, the wars probably best recalled by the founders of this nation – the English Civil War (1642-1651).  The carnage is difficult to assess for the English Civil Wars – historical records count 84,830 dead as a result of the conflicts, other estimates range as high as 190,000 dead out of a total population of about 5 million people.

One doesn’t have to go too far back to be reminded of the effects of sectarianism in Northern Ireland, or do much more than turn on a television news broadcast of the latest atrocities perpetrated by Sunnis on Shias or Shias on Sunnis.

Little wonder the founders inserted the Establishment Clause.  And the State of Nevada acquiesced to this in Article I:

“All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair[,] subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States.” (emphasis added)

Loud rhetoric, and even imprecations, from the radical religious right don’t change the overall framework – we do have an Establishment Clause, it was enacted with a mind to historical precedent and human nature, and the state of Nevada adopted it in its own Constitution.

What Does This Mean At the Bookstore?

According to the provisions of SB 302, money from the ESA may be spent to pay for:

Textbooks required for a child that who enrolls in a school that is a participating entity; … Textbooks required for the child at an eligible institution that is a participating entity or to receive instruction  from any other participating entity; … Purchasing a curriculum or any supplemental materials required to administer the curriculum.

A science text book that teaches “Creationism?” A “Biblically-Centered” curriculum?  Supplemental materials which amplify and explain doctrines such as: “When a child is born it is a cause for much happiness and celebration.  In Islam there is no preference for either a male or female child.  Quran says that both the male and the female were created from a single person (Adam) and that are equal except in terms of piety and righteousness.” [IslRel] And, that the Prophet categorically stated female children are a blessing and that raising them to be righteous believers is a source of great reward.  [IslRel]  Materials for Torah study?  Have we missed the Hindi? The Sikhs? The Jains? The Buddhists? The spirituality of Native Americans? …

If the state allows remuneration for the purchase of some sectarian materials and curricula then it must do it for all?  In light of the Establishment Clause, the question is reversed – Is there any condition in which the state is allowed to subsidize sectarian education? And, the answer is … NO.

To say that the state may not discriminate against those whose educational plans are religiously based is one thing, to say that the state must pay for the materials to implement religiously based education is quite another. It’s certainly going to take more than 100 days to get this mess sorted.

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Washington Ruling and Nevada’s School Voucher Cases

School Corridor Lockers No sooner do I post a piece on whether some forms of private education are prohibited by Nevada’s Constitution from receiving public funds than a ruling from the Washington Supreme Court strikes down funding for some charter schools in that state. [NewsTrib]

“In a 6-3 ruling issued late Friday afternoon, the high court said that the privately operated, publicly funded charter schools do not qualify as common schools under Washington’s Constitution and thus cannot receive public funding.” [NewsTrib]

Don’t be deceived by headlines declaring “court strikes down charter schools,” the ruling itself is far narrower.

“In the lead opinion, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen said the case wasn’t about the merits of charter schools, simply whether they were eligible for public funds. Citing state Supreme Court precedent from 1909, she said they are not eligible because they are not under the control of local voters. Washington charters are run by private nonprofit organizations that appoint their own boards. Most, including Tacoma’s charters, are also under the oversight of the appointed Washington State Charter School Commission.” [NewsTrib]  (emphasis added)

And, this was the point addressed in yesterday’s post.  The crux of the Washington matter was RCW 28A.150.010:

“Public schools means the common schools as referred to in Article IX of the state Constitution, including charter schools established under chapter 28A.710 RCW, and those schools and institutions of learning having a curriculum below the college or university level as now or may be established by law and maintained at public expense.”

And Washington, also, has a definition of a “common school.”

“Common schools” means schools maintained at public expense in each school district and carrying on a program from kindergarten through the twelfth grade or any part thereof including vocational educational courses otherwise permitted by law.

[1969 ex.s. c 223 § 28A.01.060. Prior: 1909 c 97 p 261 § 1, part; RRS § 4680, part; prior: 1897 c 118 § 64, part; 1890 p 371 § 44, part. Formerly RCW 28A.01.060, 28.58.190, part, 28.01.060.]

These provisions are similar to those in NRS 388.020.   We should pay particular attention to the portion of the Washington decision which clarified the definition of a Common School:

“…a common school, within the meaning of our constitution, is one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district. The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent. “ [LWV v. Washington pdf]

The central point in the Washington decision is that because the charter schools are governed by non-elected boards and managers they are not within the scope of the Washington Constitution’s mandates on school funding.  The context is important because Article IX of the Washington Constitutions is explicit:

“The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.”

Nevada’s Constitution is not so explicit in its language. [NVConst Article XI]  This raises questions about the cases filed against the school voucher law (ESA’s) filed in Nevada.  (1) In order to be categorized as a “common school” must an entity be ‘common to all children of the proper age and capacity, free, subject to district control?’   Does the classification of a charter operation as a Local Educational Agency qualify a charter corporation to be a recipient of funds from the State?

(2) Can the state confer LEA status to a private corporation, given the standard definition of an LEA?

“The term “local educational agency” means a public board of education or other public authority legally constituted within a State for either administrative control or direction of, or to perform a service function for, public elementary schools or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district, or other political subdivision of a State, or of or for a combination of school districts or counties that is recognized in a State as an administrative agency for its public elementary schools or secondary schools.” [Cornell.Law.Edu]

The federal Department of Education defines a Local Educational Agency as:

“As defined in ESEA, a public board of education or other public authority legally constituted within a State for either administrative control or direction of, or to perform a service function for, public elementary schools or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district, or other political subdivision of a State, or for a combination of school districts or counties that is recognized in a State as an administrative agency for its public elementary schools or secondary schools.”

Both definitions of a Local Educational Agency emphasize that an LEA must be a governed by a PUBLIC board or PUBLIC authority.  So, it may follow that in order to be considered part of the uniform system of common schools, a local school or local educational agency must be governed by those who are elected by the public.  Where the Nevada Constitution may be a bit fuzzy on the subject (except for the contents of the Permanent School Fund), federal standards for the categorization of a Local Educational Agency are more specific.

Nevada’s work-around appears to be to have the State Public Charter School Authority (1) ostensibly is subordinate to the State Board of Education (with elected members), and (2) to have created a “school district” composed of all the charter schools. [BalPed]  However, the authority to approve charter school applications is given to the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority, in NRS 386.509.  

Now, the situation is removed a step from the voters.  The members of the NSPCSA are:  Two members appointed by the Governor, Two members appointed by the Majority Leader of the Senate, Two members appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, and one member representing the Charter School Association of Nevada (or successor organization.)  [NRS 386.5095]   Not to put too fine a point to it, but the organization determining the membership of the 3rd largest school district in the state of Nevada is composed entirely of appointed members.   This doesn’t seem to conform to the standard, or the federal, definition of a Local Educational Agency.  The legislature has declared the charters to be an LEA, [NRS 385.513] however, saying so doesn’t necessarily make it a constitutional practice.  So, there’s the question: Has the State of Nevada erred in declaring its “charter district” an LEA given it is not governed by elected members?

Further Into The Weeds

Another question raised by the enactment of the ESA school voucher program is that of “delegated authority” that is,  the authority of a board to delegate its authority to some other entity.  Did the State err in deciding that a separate authority could approve or disapprove of charters to operate public schools in this state?

This question has been raised before, in regard to the State Board of Regents (University System), in January 1968.  At the time the state was considering the establishment of vo-tech schools in the state which would not be subject to the direct jurisdiction of the Board of Regents.  The Attorney General was asked for an official opinion, and the response was:

“In our present analysis, however, the lines of demarcation from secondary education to university level are clear. If college level courses are taught, the school is functioning on a university level and, if tax supported, should be established and controlled by the Board of Regents through the University facilities. The faculty should be hired and paid through the Board of Regents. The institution should be financed by legislative appropriation to the Board for that purpose.”

In short, if there were to be community colleges the legislature could not unilaterally pull them out of the domain of the elected representatives who govern public higher education.  We might argue, by inference, that if courses are taught, and a school is functioning, in the manner of a “common school” then it should be under the control of the local school district.  And, thus we return back to the question of whether or not the legislature erred in establishing a “district” without boundaries, and without direct public control?

Then there is the matter of assigning responsibility for public education funds, and there has been a question regarding this topic.  Dial the Way-Back Machine to 1961, and the consideration of who would be responsible for the handling of federal funds to local school districts.  Back in the day, there were questions about how funds for special educational services would be accounted for; the AG’s opinion was:

“Regulations prescribing conditions under which funds, commodities or services from federal agencies may be accepted for use by public schools”) designates and authorizes the State Board of Education to regulate the execution of all state contracts and agreements for funds, services, commodities or equipment which may be provided by agencies of the Federal Government. The State Plan submitted by the State Education Department to qualify the State of Nevada for the federal funds here involved provided for responsibility and accountability of the State Education Department, on the state level, for proper use and expenditure of any federal funds which might be made available and allocated to the State of Nevada.”

Short version:  The State Board of Education was responsible for the “proper use and expenditure” of all funding from the Federal Government, and could establish rules for the allocation of county school district funds, i.e. “all moneys received from the federal government and any other receipts, including gifts, for the operation and maintenance of the public schools in the county school district.”

Now we have a nice hash developing.   If we accept the proposition that all public school funding is subject to the jurisdiction of the State Board of Education, then how does one justify the administration of school funds by the Office of the state Treasurer?

“SB 302 provides a means for Nevada Parents with children enrolled in a public/charter school to choose a different option to meet their educational needs. A parent who wishes to choose something other than a public school simply can apply for an Education Savings Account and a percentage of what the state funds for their child’s public education will be deposited into an account for that child. The funds can then be used for education related expenses at approved participating entities. Nevada’s ESA program is being administered by the State Treasurer’s Office (STO), who ultimately will be responsible for establishing the regulations, timelines, and program processes.”

Again, if it is constitutional to state that the money received from all sources comes under the province of the State Board of Education how is it constitutionally justified that a portion of those funds may be diverted into individual accounts, administered by an agency other than the elected Board of Education?

The situation in terms of the administration and financing of charter schools in Nevada isn’t quite as black/white as the situation and legal context in Washington, but several pertinent questions are in order.

  • Can a local educational agency be one which does not have elected leadership?
  • Are schools designated as “common” but under the direct administration of those not elected by the public be part of a “uniform system?”
  • Can the state create an “artificial district” not subject to the direct control of elected officials?
  • Can state funds under the oversight of the elected State Board of Education be diverted, and the administration be delegated to, another state agency?
  • If federal funds for public education coming to the several district must be administered by the state Department of Education, then must districts establish fully separate accounts so that these funds may not be diverted and their administration delegated?

These and other questions could keep Nevada courts busy for months? Years? Decades?

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And then there were two: 2nd Lawsuit filed against Nevada’s school voucher law

School Corridor Lockers There are now two lawsuits filed against the “Education Savings Account” law enacted by the last session of Nevada’s Assembled Wisdom.  The first came late last month from the ACLU, and now a second comes from parents who are disturbed that the law takes revenue collected for public education and diverts it to private and religious schools.

“The lawsuit filed Wednesday claims ESAs violate the state constitution by diverting funds “exclusively” meant for public schools to private schools and other private expenses. It also argues the ESA bill undercuts funding for public schools to a less-than-sufficient level and does not mandate private schools to follow the same non-discrimination and accountability rules that state law requires of public schools.

The lawsuit includes a request for a judge to permanently block the Nevada treasurer’s office from implementing the ESA program, according to a news release.”  [LVRJ]

The notion that private is always better than public seems to undergird the assumptions of the proponents of public support for private education.  There are several streams that converge into this ideological river, some stronger than others.  Some relevant to the issues at hand, and others less so. The arguments are worth exploring.

Diversion

Proponents of the measure argue that since it’s the parents who make the funding request from the State Treasurer’s office, they have every right to make the diversion.  There’s a slippery slope question herein: Does an individual have the right to request the diversion of public funds for the benefit of a private enterprise?

For the sake of the general argument, let’s assume that we are not talking about schools in particular, but any state or local function.  A hypothetical might be illustrative, if not analogously probative – there is a reservoir stocked with fish by the Nevada Department of Wildlife, subsidized from about $231 million is expended in total on “fisheries management.” [NDW pdf] The sale of Trout Stamps brings in about $650,000 annually. [NDW pdf]  Approximately 1% of Nevada’s Department of Wildlife budget comes from the General Fund, and 2% from other state sources.  86% of the budget comes from wildlife fees and grants. Those fees include fishing licenses. A fishing license costs $13, and the Trout Stamp adds another $10 to the total.   Now, imagine an enterprise in close proximity to our hypothetical reservoir which charges admissions and fees to fish in the waters of its reservoir; no state license or special stamps required.

May a individual who doesn’t want to fish in public waters get $23 returned to a “fishing savings account” because he or she doesn’t want to fish in the public reservoir, and prefers to engage in that recreational activity on private lands, under private control?  Taxes and fees are combined to form the revenue base of the Department of Wildlife, so what is the justification for diverting funds from the Department of Wildlife back to those who do not wish to utilize its services?

We might apply the same analogy to other services like local libraries?  If a subscription library were to be established could local residents request a voucher for funds to subsidize their fees to the subscription library?  Could local residents request vouchers to reduce the burden for their payments to use private parks and pools?  May a local resident demand a voucher from a county government which collects property taxes, a portion of which are allocated to the operation of a hospital, if the resident chooses not to use the services of that local hospital?  Might a resident who pays for private security request a voucher for a “protection savings account” to subsidize his or her fees to the private security firm from taxes collected to finance the local law enforcement agencies?

There’s a tricky precedent here in the form of the “individual choice” argument.  The implications go far beyond the funding of private or parochial education, and range from the relatively minor (such as our fishing example) to the more serious (such as the public subsidies for public health or public safety services.)  Extrapolating this precedent could yield a chaotic system in which each individual is only obligated to pay for the “things” he or she personally wants. 

The Grass Is Greener

The “School Choice” argument has been framed as one of allowing parents to choose between the public and private system, with the private or charter schools held to be superior.  This argument branches out into several other strands.  In strand one, the question arises: Should public funds be used for the inculcation of religious ideals and dogma?

Article II of the Nevada Constitution is clear on this subject. “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year, and any school district which shall allow instruction of a sectarian character therein may be deprived of its proportion of the interest of the public school fund during such neglect or infraction, and the legislature may pass such laws as will tend to secure a general attendance of the children in each school district upon said public schools.”  Art II, Section 2 (emphasis added)

Sections 9 and 10 are equally exclusive: “No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or University that may be established under this Constitution.” And, “No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”

When the topic comes up three times in one brief segment of the State Constitution, we have to believe that those who crafted the document were serious about the subject.   So, when Bishop Gorman High School schedules Mass during the school day, would this violate the funding proscriptions in Article II of the State Constitution?  The answer seems clear in Section Ten. NO public funds of any kind or character whatever….”  Would this proscription also apply to the Southern Baptist Academy (K-12) online home schooling curricula?  Most likely.

Strand Two assumes parents want to make the best choices for their children, while the state has an obligation to create a “uniform system of common schools.” And at this point the categorization gets complicated.  There are parochial schools which are required to accept the children of any member of the parish.  There are also parochial schools, such as Bishop Manogue in Reno, NV which offer applications including recommendations from at least two teachers (math and English), and high school placement test results.  We should probably guess that those scoring higher will swim faster in the decision pools.  The Meadows is a non-sectarian school in Las Vegas, and its exclusivity is emphasized by the $15,500 to $24,025 tuition fees.  Neither exclusive (as opposed to totally inclusive) schools such as Bishop Manogue or The Meadows quite constitutes a “common” (as in totally inclusive) school.  Now, does a voucher – in the form of an ESA – violate the provisions of the State Constitution that revenue collected for educational purposes be used for schools which are not part of a “uniform system of common schools ” and really don’t intend to be?

Strand Three raises other categorical questions, such as when are other educational alternatives to be considered part of a “uniform system of common schools?”   For example, there are three forms of charter schools in Nevada depending on their sponsorship: District, University/College, and those approved by the State Public Charter School Authority.  The latter category gets us into some Alphabet Soup.  A private charter hires an ESP (Educational Service Provider) to handle day to day operations, and this management comes in two forms, the CMO and the EMO.  (Charter Management Organization, and Educational Management Organization) The EMO’s are more often those corporations which can afford to purchase school facilities.  Once the Alphabet Soup is sorted, it’s easier to examine the program management to see if it fits the template of a school’s definition of an institution fitting into a framework of “a uniform system of common schools.”

The extensive provisions of NRS 386 on Charter Schools should give some assurance of public accountability. There is an annual report from the Sponsor  NRS 386.610: For each charter school that it sponsors with a written charter, an evaluation of the progress of each such charter school in achieving the educational goals and objectives of the written charter. And, For each charter school that it sponsors with a charter contract, a summary evaluating the academic, financial and organizational performance of the charter school, as measured by the performance indicators, measures and metrics set forth in the performance framework for the charter school.  Three consecutive years of underperformance and determined by the CMO/EMO evaluation standards, and they’re out.

Not surprisingly, most of the Nevada charter schools are located in the Las Vegas suburban area.  Nor is it any great surprise that the ethnicity of 61.61% of the state charters is White, as compared to 35.98% statewide, and while the composition of public schools is about 40.56% Hispanic, the state charters enroll only 16.11% of that student population subset. [NVReport Card]  Surely, schools part of a “uniform system of common schools” would have enrollment statistics which better mirror those of the public schools? 

Thus, the question: If a school, while adhering to the testing regime of the State, isn’t representative of the enrollment of the “common schools” using even the most broad statewide description, does it qualify for public funding for its operations?  And, may a school, with the permission of the state, expend public funds if it fails to offer the same programs for special students as are required in the public schools?  In other words, do we have one system of common schools or two?

Who’s Choosing?

Heaven forbid I’m bashing private schooling – I’m one of its products.  However, I am also one who believes that private schooling is a choice, a choice made by parents who don’t want to avail themselves of the choice to send the kids to the public school.  Taxes are paid into state and local coffers for the maintenance of “a uniform system of common schools,” so that every other youngster in town who isn’t a parish member or having the luck to be born to parents who can afford private education,  isn’t denied  schooling.   The passage of the ESA legislation simply means I don’t have the choice NOT to pay for someone else’s choice to attend a private school.

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When Parrots Make Policy: Ron Knecht and the Great Trickle Down Hoax

parrot

Ron Knecht is the Nevada state controller.  He is a true believer in the Trickle Down Hoax and associated subsets of this egregious rationale for corporate welfare.  Not sure about the validity of this assertion? Read Knecht’s own words.   Mr. Knecht is most upset about the spending approved by the last session of the Legislature, sufficiently upset to grace Nevada editorial pages with his latest diatribe.

The first proposition in Knecht’s screed is that we are under-reporting the level of Tax Burdens on Nevada citizens.  His second major point is that “substantial empirical research shows that the numbers that determine the impact of government on economic growth and the public interest are total government spending amounts, not only those from particular accounts or sources. Research cited in our Controller’s Monthly Report #1 (at controller.nv.gov) shows that total public-sector spending, including state and local levels, has been too big a fraction of our economy for over 55 years.” [EDFP]

There are two problems with this paean to Koch Corporation Economic Theory. 

Problem One:  The assertion assumes that all government spending has a negative relationship to economic stability or growth.   Gross Domestic Product Formula

For an individual who has an academic background in mining economics, it’s remarkable that he’s possibly forgotten the good old, often cited, GDP formula in which “G” for government is part of the formula by which we measure the economy of both the states and the nation. Nor can we assume all governmental expenditures are counterproductive.  If, for example, the Federal government  decided to close Nellis AFB, what would be the impact on the Nevada economy?   Here’s the answer: (pdf)

As of 2012 there were 32,771 included in the base employment figures. 8,186 active duty military, 20,231 dependents, 289 reserves, civilian employees totaling 868.  There were 563 “non appropriated funds” civilian employees, and 2,055 on-site contract civilians; 579 “other civilians” were employed at the base.  The estimated dollar value of the jobs created at Nellis AFB was $229.7 million.  Expenditures at Nellis (federal and state) totaled $5,071.4 million.

Problem Two: Since the argument that all government spending is necessarily excessive is untenable, Mr. Knecht falls back on a subjective observation: “total public-sector spending, including state and local levels, has been too big a fraction of our economy for over 55 years.”   We’re left with at least two questions about this assertion. First, how big is “too big?”  Secondly, what’s magical about speaking of the last 55 years (since 1960)?

There is no way to objectively answer the initial question, the percentage of state and local spending relative to the GDP ranges from 5.9% in 1948 to 11.4% in 2014.  We could be dramatic and declare that this represents a 93% increase in state and local spending from their own sources over a 67 year period, but then we have to remember we’re speaking of 67 years, and the annual increase is an unimpressive 1.38%.

The percentage of state and local governments from their own sources as a percentage of GDP was 8.4% in 1960.  This would yield a 36% increase over the last 55 year period, an annual increase of 0.6545.   Even if we extend the numbers as globally as does Knecht in his discussion of expenditures and include federal, state, and local outlays, the total expenditure as a percentage of GDP was 25.7 in 1960 and 31.7 in 2014, an increase of 23% over the 55 year period, or  0.4181 annually. [OMB download Table 14.3]

State Local Expenditures GDP There’s nothing particularly dramatic about the state and local expenditures chart, and even less about the total outlays of the federal, state, and local expenditures.

Fed State Local Spending percentage of GDP The annual increases simply do not support the level of histrionics associated with the clamor from right wing politicians for decreased government spending.  Further, there is no reason not to take the numbers back as far as they go – to 1948.  There’s nothing magical about the last 55 years, certainly nothing in the actual numbers, which supports the assertion that we’ve experienced some form of grotesque increase in the level of spending as a percentage of GDP.

Problem Three:  Hyperbole doesn’t equate to substantiation. Knecht continues:

“This continued metastasis of government has slowed economic growth significantly over the last half century, directly damaging the public interest and producing an ever grimmer (not better) future for our communities and children. And Nevada politicians and special interests have played a substantial role in this uncaring destruction, especially those who supported this year’s taxing and spending blowout.

What are the true facts? First, state spending’s (sic) already excessive burden on our lives and wellbeing has increased 10 percent faster in the last decade than the incomes of Nevada families and businesses. (Due to changes in reporting categories, there is no pre-2004 total spending data comparable to figures since then; otherwise, we would use it. Hence, meaningful comparisons to earlier years such as 1992 are not possible.)” [EDFP]

These paragraphs don’t represent an economic argument, they are an ideological one.   Again, there’s an un-anchored assertion, that without the increase in government spending there would have been greater overall economic growth.   Since there’s no empirical data available because we can’t undo the government spending in the last 50 to 67 years, we’re left with an assumption – that all the revenue collected and spent by various levels of government would automatically have been re-invested in productive economic activity.   

The experience of 2007-2008 should have given us an example of what can go wrong when money isn’t transferred in ways described by classical economic theory.  Money didn’t necessarily move from investors into plant expansion and greater employment – too much went to feed the Wall Street Casino, into increasingly sophisticated financial products which had more interest in Bubble Manufacturing than in creating financial stability.  Perhaps in some utopian, and essentially academic, system money not spent on taxes would have been put into research, development, manufacturing, and sales efforts – but in the very real world of modern finance that’s not how the system works.  Mutations such as the management theory of shareholder value, and the rise of the Financialists, insured that the old illusions don’t make a solid foundation for current realistic economic discussions.

Additionally, as noted with the Nellis AFB example, not all government spending is universally considered economically counter productive.  Nor can it be effectively argued that government spending doesn’t enhance economic stability and promote growth.   Investments in infrastructure, such as the national highway system, can lead to decreases in production costs, and increases in output, yielding a net rate of return above that of private capital as shown during the forty year period from 1950 to 1989. [Rand pdf]

Knecht also attempts to create a cause and effect relationship between “excessively burdensome” taxation/spending and stagnant wages.  Welcome to the land of Post hoc ergo propter hoc.   Controller Knecht’s diatribe manages to ignore the effects of “gains in labor productivity, the division of earned income between labor and capital profits, and the allocation of labor compensation among wages and nonwage benefits.” [Brookings]  Nor does he cite the trends related to full employment, declining union density, the misclassification of employees, and the race to the bottom in labor standards. [EPI]  Knecht’s also omitting a new notion, “downward nominal wage rigidity,” in which workers in a buyers market are fearful of losing all employment so will settle for lower wages. [RCM]  [Economist]  Even the hard-right Federalist Society, of which Knecht is a member, cites “reduced labor demand,” “increased labor supply,” (and gratuitously tosses in the Affordable Care Act) as causal factors in wage stagnation.  In short, his simplistic, post hoc ergo propter hoc argument misses the point from the left, the center, and the right.  He might as well argue that wages have grown slowly since the beginning of the general economic recovery,  mid 2009, because Serena Williams won the Wimbledon Tournament on July 4, 2009.

Problem Four: Here’s another leap of logic which borders on the inexplicable.  Knecht’s syllogism appears to be: (1) Nevada has a median state and local tax burden; (2) Local governments are subsidiaries of the state; (3) Therefore, the state is responsible for negotiation results between local governments and local public employees.

“In fact, Nevada’s total state and local tax burden – that’s what matters, not headcounts – has risen to the midpoint: 25th or 26th in the U.S., depending on how measured. Because local governments are subsidiaries of the state and governed by it, legislators and governors bear significant responsibility for local spending too – especially the excesses caused by state laws allowing public-employee unions to drive local spending ever higher.”

There’s almost nowhere to begin with this other than to assume Knecht believes that local employee contracts are to blame for “excesses” in local spending.  Again, we’re in subjective territory.  How much is too much?  How much, for example, is too much to pay a police officer or sheriff’s deputy for being willing to engage with some of the most dangerous people in the state?  For being targets for radical right wing lunatics while the officers are trying to catch a bit of lunch in a pizza establishment?  How much is too much for a firefighter – how many people are willing to run into instead of out of a burning building? 

How much is too much to pay a county social worker?  The average caseload for a Child Protective Services investigator in Clark County is 18. The average case load for those responsible for supervising foster care is 13.  Or, to put it another way social workers are responsible for about 25 children per worker. [LVRJ]  The recommended standards are 12-15 children per social worker in foster family care, 12 active cases per month for initial assessment and investigation for every social worker; 17 active ongoing family cases per social worker with no more than one new case assigned for every six open cases.  The standard for a combined assessment and investigation in ongoing cases is 10 ongoing and 4 active cases per social worker. [CWLA]  

While hard cap number ratios may not reflect the flexibility needed to handle all local cases, recruiting and retaining trained professionals who are responsible for assessment, service planning, implementing and monitoring services, advocacy for children or adults who need basic services, interdisciplinary  and inter-organizational collaboration, record keeping,  and practice evaluation and improvements. [SWorg pdf] And, all this for about $45,000 to $66,000 per year.

Of course, there’s always that pesky teacher’s union – driving up the costs of public education – since there’s no way to run a school without teachers.  The current Clark County salary schedule begins at a non-too-impressive $34,637 and terminates for an “ASC + PhD” on step 15 at $72,331.  The median household wage in Nevada is $53,042.   In the private sector a doctorate in economics will get a person about $98,200 early in his or her career; a doctorate in statistics will get a person about $99,900 in the early years, increasing to approximately $128,000 in the later years.  [Payscale]

Aside from declaiming, without context, that salary negotiations are a significant driver of “excessive” local spending, Knecht also ignores another picky detail – population. In 1960 there were approximately 291,000 residents of the state of Nevada, 285,278 to be more exact.  By 2010 there were 2,839,000 residents.  There was an 895% increase in the population of the state in last 50 years.  This is the point at which “headcounts” do matter, it obviously takes more people to deliver services to 2.8 million persons than it does to provide them to 291,000.

NV Population 1960 2010

And now comes Controller Knecht’s finale, discounting efforts made by legislators to address spending issues in a rational manner:

“…as if hearing every detail of the budget means that politicians make the right decisions. Legislators can’t really know the value of each spending proposal when they hear almost exclusively from proponents, most of them paid for by our tax dollars to advocate for their interest, not for voters, taxpayers and the public interest. They certainly can’t determine its net social value unless they get equally extensive testimony in the same hearings on the damage done by the taxes needed to fund each item – and they never do that.”

There are a couple of features which require untangling in this paragraph. First, a person can be an advocate for social workers and also be a voter, a tax payer, and a person concerned with the public interest.  An advocate for highway funding is also a voter, a taxpayer, and concerned with the public interest.  There is no way to compartmentalize people, their advocacy, and their public spirit.   In Mr. Knecht’s taxonomy anyone who advocates for better police, fire, education, and social services, or highways, health inspections, public mental health services, parks, wildlife, and libraries – is not advocating “for the public interest.”  As if the public interest lies solely in diminishing these services in the name of “smaller government.”  This isn’t an economic argument – it is completely, totally, an ideological statement; and, it’s judgmental to boot.  So also is the term “net social value.”

“Net social value” is one of those buzzwords associated with radical right wing economics of austerity, and unfortunately it comes without any real meaning. [Guardian] It’s related to the economic term “social return on investment,” which is only slightly more precise.  “Social Return on Investment is an analytic tool for measuring and accounting for a much broader concept of value, taking into account social, economic and environmental factors.” [NewEcon]   Knecht’s context seems to place the “net social value” proposal closer to the Cost Benefit Analysis methodology and not quite so analogous to the SROI calculations.  Analysis in these terms can get very mushy very quickly.

For example, in purely economic terms (and ones Controller Knecht may find troubling) one of the best SROI or “net social value” or just old fashioned economic stimulus spending is the SNAP program.  A USDA Study designed to test whether or not SNAP benefits improved the economy found that an increase of $1 billion created about $1.79 billion in economic activity (GDP.) Or, that every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates about $9 in economic activity. [USDA]

If we expand the terms to include socially beneficial activities the measurement becomes more difficult to manage. How, for example, do we measure the quantitative benefits of public libraries?  Several states have made the attempt and most have returned results which might be at variance with Mr. Knecht’s ideological preferences.  South Carolina reported that for every $1 spent on public libraries contributed $2.86 in value to the state’s economy.  Florida studied 17 public libraries and demonstrated about $6.40 in economic benefit for every $1 in their budgets. [ALA]

Mr. Knecht assumes that “net social value” cannot be determined unless there  is equal weight given to the opponents of government spending for government services.  This, in turn, assumes that the arguments of the opponents are of equal quality and veracity as those of the proponents.  The evident extrapolation of Mr. Knecht’s argument is that any advocacy of government spending on government services must be self-serving, and therefore cannot be in the public interest. However, what are we to make of a hypothetical argument advanced by public health nurses that the state invest more in the inspection and regulation of out patient surgical centers? Simply because some such centers do not care to be inspected and regulated are we to assume that there would be a “negative net social value” to the increased number of inspections? What are legislators to do?  Knecht advises “focus?”

“Above all, they can’t make the right decisions if they substitute laboring over program details for focusing on the premier fact that government is already so big – even while still growing – that it has slowed economic growth to a long-term crawl and thus damaged our communities and children’s futures. If they really cared, they’d address and fix that first.”

Repeat the drum roll: Larger government = slow economic growth. As we’ve seen earlier in this post, that argument doesn’t stand under even cursory scrutiny.  This is a highly subjective point of view, and informed more by ideology than by economics.   If our legislators “really cared” they’d go over those program details, looking for ways to streamline services without compromising the basics, and in doing so would address issues in education, public safety, public health, and the quality of life in Nevada – without resorting to ideological blinders.  We could use more wise owls, and fewer parrots?

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