Thomas Mitchell: Higher taxes will not solve education woes

Thomas Mitchell: Higher taxes will not solve education woes

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Thomas Mitchell

It’s never enough.

Despite lawmakers funding 3 percent teacher raises in this year’s legislative session and lawmakers increasing taxes by $750 million a year in 2015 to fund public education, the Clark County teachers’ union is launching a petition campaign that would ask voters statewide to increase taxes by $1 billion a year for public education.

The Clark County Education Association told the news media it has not yet decided specifically whose ox it intends to gore, but its members have voted to increase their union dues to fund a $2 million petition drive.

“We believe that there (are) revenue streams out there that can be increased to the tune of generating $1 billion more for public education a year on top of what we’re currently funding,” the Las Vegas newspaper quoted John Vellardita, executive director of the union, as saying. “We believe that whatever tax that may be that we land on, it’s got to be supported by the public and the public has to be assured that it’s going to the schools.”

To move whatever tax proposition the union comes up with forward the union and its backers must gather signatures amounting to 10 percent of the votes cast in the latest general election — in this case about 24,500 signatures in each of the state’s four congressional districts.

The petitions would have to be submitted by November 2020 and then verified by the Secretary of State’s office. If successful, the tax measure would then go before the 2021 Legislature, which could pass the initiative or kick it to the voters on the November 2022 ballot.

The last time such a proposal was put before Nevada voters was in 2014, when the Nevada State Education Association pushed a margin tax on businesses that it said would raise about $800 million a year in additional funding for K-12 education.

The measure went down in flames, with 78.8 percent of voters voting no. That’s nearly a 4-to-1 margin.

The problem with throwing more money at education and expecting Nevada’s cellar-dwelling education evaluations to improve is that it’s already been tried and found wanting. Since 1960 Nevada has tripled inflation-adjusted public education funding, but college entrance exam scores have actually fallen slightly.

According to the National Education Association, in the 2017-18 school year Nevada educators’ average salaries ranked 26th in the nation. For the past four years Nevada high schoolers had the lowest composite ACT scores in the nation, according to a recent Las Vegas newspaper account. Only 14 states require all students to take the exam. Nevada was the lowest among those 14, too.

According to the Nation’s Report Card, in 2015 only three states fared more poorly than Nevada in fourth grade mathematics proficiency.

If one has poorly performing employees, simply paying them more is not likely to improve their productivity.

While the teacher unions keep pressing for higher salaries and funding in general, they have been fighting tooth-and-nail every effort to toughen teacher evaluations and tie compensation to performance in the classroom.

A state law passed in 2011 established teacher evaluations and fully 50 percent of evaluations were to be based on pupil growth or improvement in testing scores over the course of a school year. At some point it was reduced to 40 percent, then in this past legislative session a bill was passed and signed by the governor dropping pupil growth to only 15 percent of an evaluation.

Evaluations are not all that rigorous to begin with. According to the Nevada Department of Education, in the 2017-2018 school year only 25 out of nearly 20,000 teachers in Nevada were evaluated as “ineffective.” That’s 0.1 percent. Another 1.3 percent were pegged as “developing,” while 80 percent were rated “effective” and 16.7 percent were rated “highly effective.” The rest were exempt from being evaluated.

The scores varied wildly from county to county. More than half the teachers in Storey and Eureka were rated “highly effective,” while less than 5 percent were awarded that rating in Lander and Pershing. In 12 counties there were no “ineffective” teachers whatsoever.

Tougher evaluations linked to compensation, not throwing still more money at public education is what is needed. So, if approached sometime in the future and asked to sign a petition to raise taxes to improve public education, we recommend you politely decline.

Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at thomasmnv@yahoo.com. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com.

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