On Wednesday, the Las Vegas Sun reported the latest clamor to file litigation to force the state increase education funding.
The story said various proponents of increasing education funding planned to meet with the ACLU to discuss options. “The only thing I can confirm right now is that we’re looking into this,” Tod Story, interim executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, told the newspaper.
On Friday, Andy Matthews, president of Nevada Policy Research Institute, weighed in with a piece pointing out a few of the fallacies of the argument for simply spending more on education, especially the claim that education funding has been slashed due to the recession. He provided this helpful chart to illustrate:
Matthews points out that even when the figures are adjusted for inflation, education spending has tripled in the past half century. If you used 2009 dollars the figures would be: 1960, $3,116; 1970, $4,252; 1980, $5,436; 1990, $6,758; 2000, $7,659. That’s about $1,000 per pupil per decade, with no discernible improvement in educational outcomes.
He also pointed out this type of lawsuit strains the concept of separation of powers.
On April 24, the Las Vegas Review-Journal also had a story about threats of litigation over education funding, quoting a Clark County School Board member as saying state officials are “violating their own constitution” by not providing for education. Of litigation, she said, “I still think it’s something we should be pursuing.”
Proponents of such lawsuits, which have been successful in many states are fond of quoting the Nevada Constitution, which says, “The legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, literary, scientific, mining, mechanical, agricultural and moral improvements, and also provide for a superintendent of public instruction.”
Sometimes they also quote the section that requires the Legislature “to provide for a uniform system of common schools …” but they usually truncate the quote before getting to the part that says how this is to be done: “by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year.”
One school for six months a year.
Actually, there has been successful litigation to increase school funding. In 2003, in the case of Guinn v. Legislature, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that funding education had to take precedent over a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds majority to raise taxes. Only Justice Bill Maupin dissented.
Like Matthews, Maupin cited separation of powers, “Again, we are powerless to order co-equal branches of government to exercise individual acts of constitutional discretion. Our authority depends upon whether extraordinary relief is warranted and in exercising our authority to grant relief, we would be restricted to an interpretation of the Constitution, utilizing recognized tenets of statutory construction.”
The court three years later overturned Guinn v. Legislature, largely for the very reason cited by Maupin.
Oh, did I mention that R-J story appeared April 24, 2011? Same song, another redundant verse.