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The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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Over the opposition of two moderate Republicans (both consistently vote to increase school spending), an interim Nevada legislative committee last week hired a Denver education consulting firm to carry out a $225,000 study “to determine whether public schools in Nevada are adequately funded.”

Letting the contract to the firm of Augenblick, Palaich and Associates was approved on a 4-2 vote.

Here’s a little test of your political instincts. I will offer a summary of one possible finding of such a consultants’ report. You have to guess the odds that such a finding will ever be delivered by a consultant so hired:

“Actually, you’re spending way too much money, already. Japanese and European schools turn out high school graduates that are years ahead of yours -- in effect, your high school graduates are essentially ninth graders on a world scale -- and they do it while spending less than half as much per pupil as you do. Same thing with parochial schools right here in our own country: better results for much less spending, even in neighborhoods more impoverished than the Nevada average.

“We were tempted to say you’re currently spending the right of money; you just need to apply it more efficiently. But that’s not quite what we found. As we said, our finding is that you’re actually spending way too much money. Your excess funding has encouraged you to hire too many administrators that cripple your teachers with a bunch of made-up paperwork, and in turn those excess administrators have gotten you involved with all kinds of social do-goodism that has nothing to do with your main mandate -- academic, classroom education of kids who show up ready to learn.

“So, to improve Nevada schools, you need to substantially reduce what you’re spending. If there’s a problem with federal mandates, sue under the 10th Amendment.”

Chances a consultant hired under these conditions would ever turn in a report remotely resembling this one? Zero. A consultant who says anything like this would have a very short career, indeed.

Why? Because school districts and their legislative champions only want to be told “You need to spend more, more, more.” The findings of the Augenblick firm are intended to be used by the 2007 Legislature to justify throwing more money at Nevada’s failing school bureaucracies. Everyone involved understands that. Anyone who thinks otherwise should introduce himself as “Mr. Van Winkle.”

In fact, Senate watchdogs Bob Beers and Warren Hardy -- the two Clark County Republicans who opposed the expenditure -- point out it was this same firm’s 2002 report that Kansas schools were “underfunded” that led to a fiscally devastating Kansas Supreme Court decision.

The Kansas court threatened to close down schools there on the grounds school funding levels violated the Kansas Constitution because they did not “adequately cover student needs.” The Kansas Legislature in a special session in July appropriated an additional $293 million, although the court stated another $580 million still might be needed to comply with funding that the Augenblick study determined was necessary. Kansas legislators, who went into session this week, are considering throwing another $400 million at their failed education bureaucracy, the Kansas City Star reports.

“This company has caused great upheaval in Kansas, perhaps damaging the state irreparably,” Beers said.

Why does this sound so familiar?

It was in adjacent Kansas City, Mo., of course, that federal District Judge Russell Clark took control of the school district in 1985, ordering the state to spend an additional $2 billion over the next 12 years on state-of-the-art science labs, planetariums, swimming pools -- anything he could think of.

To pay for all the changes, improvements, programs and new schools, the judge unilaterally increased property taxes 150 percent, imposed a 1.5 percent income tax surcharge and, when that wasn’t enough, ordered the state of Missouri to make up for the shortfall. For more than a decade, the Kansas City district got more money per pupil than any other of the 280 major school districts in the country.

The only thing the judge did not do, was to fire bad teachers and educrats, and replace them with good ones.

The result? Nothing. Test scores never improved. The drop-out rate went up, not down. Judge Clark’s experiment was subsequently dubbed by Investor’s Business Daily “America’s Most Costly Education Failure” (http://www.cato.org/dailys/4-29-98.html.)

“For decades, critics of excess spending for public schools had said, ‘You can’t solve educational problems by throwing money at them,’” writes Paul Ciotti, who authored a book on Judge Clark’s costly experiment. “To which educators and public school advocates replied, ‘No one’s ever tried.’ Kansas City settles the argument.”

Not for the big spenders in Carson City, though. They aim to try again.