Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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THROWING GOOD MONEY AFTER BAD

Responding to the shortage of qualified math and science teachers in Nevada’s public schools, state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, now offers Senate Bill 52, which would hand extra tax dollars to Millennium Scholarship recipients who agree to teach math and science in the public schools for at least three years.

Under the plan, “B or better” Nevada high school grads who attend the University of Nevada at Reno or Las Vegas and there pursue programs designed to prepare them to teach math, science, or special education would get extra tax money to pay for their registration and laboratory fees, books and course materials.

After graduating, those scholarship recipients would have to teach in a Nevada public school for at least three years, or else pay the scholarship money back.

The proposal is simple, but unfortunately also boneheaded.

A brief review: Nevada receives its annual “Millennium Scholarship” money more or less directly from a consortium of big tobacco companies which were extorted into the deal by the attorneys general of Nevada and most of the other states under threat of even more punitive court judgments. The states swore up and down they needed this money to pay for the health care of those made sick by smoking-related diseases.

To pay this annual protection money, the manufacturers raised the price of cigarettes, meaning the Millennium Scholarships are in fact funded by a hidden extra tax on smokers.

But as soon as they got their hands on the first bag of loot, former Gov. Kenny Guinn and the Nevada Legislature immediately changed their tune. Forgotten was the supposed “unfunded need” to treat sick smokers. Instead Gov. Guinn decided to craft his “legacy” by using this new Danegeld to fund huge discounts in already tax-subsidized tuitions at state colleges for any kid graduating a Nevada high school with a “B” average. The deal would be completely funded by the tobacco money, voters were assured.

As predicted here and elsewhere, rampant grade inflation soon ensued. To graduate a Nevada high school with less than a “B” average today requires some willful effort. Millennium Scholarship recipients don’t even have to promise not to smoke. (Heck, if they want to keep the program solvent, our lawmakers find themselves hoping the kids burn through several packs a day.) So, of course, the funding is already insufficient and general fund subsidies are now in the pipeline.

So, for starters, the supposedly fiscally conservative Ms. Cegavske now wants to double down on a bet that’s already losing.

But the real disappointment here is that Sen. Cegavske thus falls into the trap (so familiar on the side the liberals) of attempting to work some well-intended social engineering by massaging an existing program. (For example: add punitive surtaxes on behaviors you don’t like, and tax deductions for behaviors you do like, and pretty soon four generations of congressmen have given us as federal tax code that would give any honest man a hernia.)

Nevada doesn’t lack math and science teachers. Someone is in those classrooms, right now. What Nevada lacks is qualified math and science teachers. Surely the best people to teach those specialized subjects are people with degrees in math and science. Yet most of the beneficiaries of Ms. Cegavske’s new handouts would doubtless end up the proud possessors of degrees in “education” -- “pedagogy” -- a field of study which my own favorite high school teacher once described as “learning to count the milk money.”

Make no mistake, plenty of fine and dedicated folks staff our government-school classrooms. But as a subset of those who eventually graduate college, “ed school” graduates are not among the highest-scoring cohorts as measured by the SAT or ACT. In fact, they’re among the lowest-scoring.

The best thing to do with Ms. Cegavske’s costly idea is to dump it entirely. But if the legislators insist on offering kids some such deal, how about this:

Make the additional scholarships available -- by merit competition -- to college sophomores anywhere in the nation who agree to pursue degrees in math or science, and then come to Nevada and seriously apply for a position teaching math or science in the public schools for at least three years. Provide money to help them complete two more years of undergraduate studies and then two years post-graduate -- majoring in math or science.

Then 1) if they come here and find three years’ work as math or science teachers, we’re all even. 2) If they decline to come here and try, they owe Nevada the money back. But most important of all, 3) if they come here and apply in good faith, but a local Nevada school district declines to hire them because their degrees are in math or science rather than “pedagogy,” then this new law should require that said SCHOOL DISTRICT pay that kid’s scholarship money back to the state treasury.

Because in that case it would become crystal clear who’s really engineering our current shortage of math and science teachers.

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