You Can’t Make This Stuff Up – School Funding Edition

Wow, cha-ching! You can almost hear Nevada’s education unions and bureaucrats salivating at the idea:

A consultant recommended Thursday that Nevadans spend nearly $1.3 billion more per year on public education so that the state’s students meet achievement standards, a figure that stunned lawmakers and education activists.

The figure suggested by Denver-based Augenblick, Palaich and Associates represents nearly $3,600 more per student each year for Nevada’s 415,000 public school students. Under Nevada’s current funding formula, school districts get about $4,500 per student each year from the Legislature.

Well, let’s clarify that a little bit:

The consultant’s recommendation does not include school construction costs or spending on transportation and buses.

All right, then. Perhaps you are reacting the same way as the audience did at the State Capitol in Carson City – just a little aghast:

The consultant’s recommendation was met with a brief silence by the committee and audience in the hearing room in the Legislative Building.

“We operated under the theory you wanted that number,” consultant John Augenblick said, adding that the state could achieve the 2013-14 goal by increasing current education spending by 5 percent, or $468 million, a year for the next seven years.

Are you ready for the punchline?:

Augenblick said the spending recommendations came from a series of private panel discussions with 39 educators across the state. His committee was paid $225,000 by the Legislature last January to prepare the study.

“We are simply interpreting what people in this state said was necessary,” Augenblick said. “What we believe is not necessarily that number.”

The state paid a private consultant $225,000 to sit down in private and talk with education unions and bureaucrats, ask them what they want, give it a pricetag, and come back and report it to the legislature.

Unfortunately, this sort of analysis to determine the cost of an “adequate” public education is not unheard of. Dr. Jay Greene writes about the problem in his 2005 book Education Myths (See Chapter 1: “The Money Myth”).

At least Nevada’s lawmakers still have the final say on their state’s budget. Court-ordered education spending has been done before. Letting bureaucrats, private consultants, and even unelected judges determine how much (and in what way) money should be spent on public schools is a recipe for disaster. Like it or not, these are decisions elected legislators need to make. At least we can vote them out of office if necessary.

Nevada is far from alone. Let’s take a look closer to home: the same education consultant – Augenblick – worked with a group known as the Colorado School Finance Project to perform a study showing just how much more taxpayers need to cough up before they can expect enough good things to happen.

Augenblick’s analysis, cited in a report to the Colorado state legislature, called for an additional $800 million to $1.5 billion for Colorado to reach so-called educational funding “adequacy.” The high-end figure came from using a similar “professional judgment” model that asked education bureaucrats what they wanted.

The low-end figure came from the “successful school district” model. This method works as follows: find the average amount spent by school districts successfully meeting the mark in getting kids educated, weight them based on socio-economic factors, and determine the average amount spent by these districts. That’s the amount they say all school districts should spend (weighted, of course, for individual economic factors) and calculate the difference as the amount needed. Other crucial steps: ignore all the school districts that spend more and don’t meet standards; ignore all the school districts that spend less and do meet standards; assume that spending more money is connected with academic success. Hmmm…

Nevada’s taxpayers shouldn’t be the only ones gasping for air.

(HT: Mike Antonucci)

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