Newspaper column: Higher taxes will not solve education woes

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 amoung 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.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Teachers protest at a Las Vegas high school earlier this year. (R-J file pix)

12 comments on “Newspaper column: Higher taxes will not solve education woes

  1. Mistrbill says:

    The voters are tired of paying for education and it never happens. Instead of dropping the goal post and asking for more money, shop for better teachers and get rid of the dead beats. In most professions, if you cant produce, you are replaced!

  2. Anonymous says:

    “Tougher evaluations”

    Can these be done more cheaply than the apparently less rigorous ones we have now?

    Or shall we spend more money doing better evaluations, and where might that money come from in a world where guys like you don’t want to spend more money?

    Geesh.

  3. Evaluations are already being done, but value of pupil growth in nil.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Evaluations aren’t up to snuff though according to you (apparently because teachers are passing) so changing them, to make them tough is going to require time and money or do you just figure they’ll change without spending time or money?

    I wonder if we could contract out the evaluations to a private company that of course wouldn’t charge anything for making them tougher?

    Good old private enterprise and all right?

    Happy Black Friday!

  5. Rincon says:

    There’s no way that 96.7% of Nevada teachers are effective. Paying more money for evaluations won’t make them more accurate. Replacing the evaluators might.

  6. I repeat, the evaluations are not weighted to reward teachers who achieve pupil growth. The factor is in the evaluations, but it accounts for nearly nothing.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thomas this is just a ridiculous factor when deciding whether someone is doing the job that they are being paid to do.

    If I’m a teacher, and the student doesn’t care to learn, or is incapable of learning, or for reasons that have nothing to do with me but rather the individual students own personal circumstances won’t learn or can’t translate what he has learned into a format that we can “grade” one way or another, how can my job and my career be at risk?

    Your evaluation method is flawed not the evaluations being used. Whatever they are.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The whole system needs to be revamped from top to bottom. Teachers should be paid more money and the countless bureaucrats and administrators less. Unions should spend more time trying to improve the education system for the students and the teachers who have to exist in an insane system that concentrates more on process than progress. Benefits and salaries for for teachers are all well and good but that should not be the end all be all of what the well paid Union officials do. As for proficiency exams and proficiency evaluations, they sound like a good idea but the devil is in the details.

  9. Barbara says:

    Here’s a sure fire way to improve funding for almost anything. Immigration reform. Strengthen the border, deport those in the country illegally, pass English only laws. Illegal aliens cost the Tax payer billions and are balkanizing our country.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’m in need of some assistance here.

    Can someone direct me to the express authority given by our believed founding fathers within the Constitution to the government of limited powers to restrict the right of people to speak in whatever language they choose?

    And as a follow up, isn’t the government obligated, implicitly at least, and according to decisional law, to communicate with it’s citizens in languages that THEY understand?

    Asking for an amigo.

    “I fear for our republic”

  11. Rincon says:

    The illegal immigrant issue is a squirrel. Although it is debatable whether they pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits, there is no question for a fair minded person that immigrants, even illegal ones, save Americans a whole lot of money. Every time you buy fruit or meat in the supermarket, or if you’re paying for home care for an elderly family member, you benefit materially from immigrant workers who work far more cheaply than Americans, yet few American jobs are lost as witnessed by our low jobless rate. The American upper class, on the other hand, scoops up vast sums of money from the efforts of the worker bees, i.e., most of us, leaving slim pickin’s for the people who get it done.

    If you truly feel that immigrants are stealing jobs, consider that Americans have an inherent advantage in the job market. We’re generally better educated, know the language intimately, and understand cultural norms way better than immigrants on average. This means that we can beat out almost any immigrant if we are willing to work for the same wage.

    Conservatives act as if jobs are limited, but somehow, don’t believe money is limited when the rich pay lowball wages because they can. Immigrants spend much of their money here, employing Americans, while most of the money “earned” by the rich doesn’t get spent. It gets “invested”. Problem is that we don’t need so much investment. That’s one reason interest rates are so low and asset values are so high. Lots of money chasing fewer borrowers and assets.

    Immigrants generally give more than they take. It’s the opposite for the rich.

  12. […] Higher taxes will not solve education woes 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. […]

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