(Jeff Ecker) – Are Nevadans being kept in the dark by both Democrat and conservative legislators on why Gov. Sandoval’s proposed tax hike, SB 252, to pump money into the school system is a terrible idea? If you were a politician, would you dare imply that poor school performance is directly related to Nevada’s parents? You may be very surprised to learn what these politicians already know but are unwilling to say for fear of political backlash and lost votes.
What you are about to discover is nothing new, but Nevada is unique in several ways, and when all of the hurdles are combined, the results reveal what is really going on with our education system regarding performance. Let’s look at the picture in its entirety.
First, we all understand that Clark County is considered to have a very transient population in relation to other counties here in Nevada and in other states. In fact, Clark County boasts the dubious distinction of having a higher percentage of transplanted children than anywhere else in the country. Like many children across the country who relocate to a new school because of a move from another city or state, Nevadan students deal with the stresses of trying to assimilate to new surroundings and grieving the loss of friends—sometimes even having to deal with these pressures during the school year.
In a May 29, 2013 article from the Chicago Tribune, the writer cites research by herself and a colleague from the University of Chicago: “We find that any time a student changes schools for any reason, whether it results from the choice to switch to another charter or public school, due to a residential relocation or a forced move because of a school closing, the disruption temporarily depresses the student’s test scores for a year or two after the move.”
There is an inordinate amount of information and credible studies indicating the disadvantages children raised in single-parent homes face relative to children raised in two-parent homes. Common outcomes include lower high school graduation rates, lower GPAs, and greater risk for drug abuse and other criminal activity. All schools have students from single-parent homes, but how does Nevada stack up in this category?
According to a 2014 Bloomberg report, Nevada ranked highest in the nation for divorced residents. And, unfortunately, that is part of a long-term pattern.
Nevada’s public school system has remained dead last in the nation for a third year running, according to an analysis of children’s well-being released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2014. The area where Nevada children continue to worsen is economic security, ranking 47th out of 50 states. More and more Nevada youth live in poverty, have parents without secure employment, and live in households with a high housing-to-cost burden (meaning mortgages or rent payments consume greater than 30 percent of income).
“And it’s a rate that affects schools,” said Dale Erquiaga, Clark County’s superintendent of public schools. The proposed business taxes will do at least as much harm as it will help Nevada’s children as businesses close or cut back on jobs which add to the poverty issues. Closing of businesses will certainly reduce the tax base which also contradicts the tax measure.
Nevada’s economy heavily relies on its service sector and lacks the diversity of industries other states have. Many of the parents who live in Clark County work for companies that literally never close—casinos, bars and restaurants. This causes parents to work nights, graveyard shifts and weekends. Children in these homes lack traditional supervision and parental attention regarding homework, school involvement, proper diet, regular sleeping habits, etc. So what do parents do when they cannot give their children the attention they need? Turn to childcare facilities? Not so fast.
In the 2012 Nevada Fact Sheet from the Children’s Cabinet, it shows that of the licensed child-care providers in the state, 78 percent do not have a college degree. While the parents are off at work, their children in daycare are being supervised by a largely uneducated staff. How does that bode for the kids’ future scholastic performance?
The last US Census report ranking states that have adults with at least a bachelor’s degree ranked Nevada near the bottom at 45. How much emphasis and influence do parents who themselves lack higher education put on proper learning habits in their homes? This creates quite a challenge for children who need help understanding homework and assistance with school projects.
According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, Nevada has had one of the fastest growing foreign-born populations in the U.S. for over the past three decades. One result of this growth was the rapid increase in the number of limited English proficient (LEP) students enrolled in Nevada’s public schools. In 2008, the LEP student population in Nevada was 15 times larger than it was in 1980. Between 2000 and 2008 alone, Nevada’s LEP student population nearly doubled. The rise in the LEP student population has followed the general population growth pattern in Nevada, which has been fueled by growing levels of both legal and illegal immigration. Ninety-five percent of the state’s foreign-born residents have settled either in the Las Vegas or Reno metropolitan areas. Likewise, 94 percent of all LEP students are enrolled in either Clark (Las Vegas) or Washoe (Reno) County schools.
The factors we’ve already discussed—transient populations, parents without regular work schedules, homes where education is not always a priority—are all magnified when language is thrown up as an additional barrier.
- The Census Bureau estimates that 27 percent of Nevada residents over the age of 5 speak a language other than English at home;
- The Nevada Department of Education identified 78,732 LEP students statewide in the 2008-09 school year, 18 percent of the total student population in Nevada;
- Nevada ranks fourth in the U.S. in the percentage of LEP students in its public school system;
- The cost of LEP education in Nevada in 2008-09 was $730 million.
With businesses sure to close because of this massive gross margins tax, thereby delivering a major blow to our still fragile economy, how are our working parents and their struggling children supposed to improve their lot?
With all of these mitigating factors, how do our politicians address some of the very real hurdles affecting school test scores in Nevada? Unfortunately, we, the people of this state, have very little information on why our children are underperforming—other than the constant demands for bigger school budgets.
Sadly, facts prove that education is one of those problems that is not solved by simply throwing money at it.
In 2012, only 63 percent of students graduated, one of the worst graduation rates in the US. But the propagandists keep saying that we are not spending enough money per pupil to achieve higher test scores. Also, the class room sizes have too many students per teacher.
According to the National Education Association, the national average per student expenditure for public elementary and secondary schools in 2012-13 was $10,938. The states with the highest per student expenditures were:
- New York at $19,523 ranked No. 1 in spending,
- Rhode Island at $17,666 ranked No. 8,
- Nevada at only $8,222 ranked No. 43.
What were their test results?
- New York ranked 41 in SAT scores,
- Rhode Island ranked 40,
- Nevada ranked 43.
If spending per pupil were the answer, how do you explain New York and Rhode Island’s horrible test averages with such high spending? And class sizes aren’t a factor with New York having one of the lowest teacher-to-student ratios in the country. The top three states for student-teacher ratios ranked 27, 32 and 41 on SAT scoring.
But wait, how about the argument that teachers are not being paid enough? The Nevada Journal reports that for 2011-12, average public school salaries rank Nevada at18 out of 51, and is one of only a handful of states where the education sector averages higher pay than the private sector.
How do we hold our legislators accountable if they won’t expose the truth behind Nevada’s poorly performing school system?
Parents may be very well inclined to vote for the governor’s massive, business-killing tax hike without recognizing their own responsibilities to helping their children become scholastic achievers. It is easy to deflect responsibility by throwing money at a floundering system. But will it ever have a real effect on school scores? We know jobs will be lost but will the scores see any improvement? And, if so, how? What is Governor Sandoval going to do to change all of the real determining factors that keep test scores low?
It’s a painful truth but not every problem can be solved by government. Parents have to take much more responsibility for our failing students. Perhaps we are too consumed with the rankings of our schools versus understanding that some of the issues are inherent and unique to Nevada. Children are products of their home environment, not wards of the state. The state cannot possibly spend its way through the endless barriers to reach higher scores. Which begs the question – why are we so focused on test scores in such a unique scholastic environment?
Will the legislation address these issues at the risk of backlash or will they continue to pretend that some undetermined situation is at fault to which higher taxes is the only answer? Will the legislators vote on this bill based on misperceptions of why our students perform so poorly or will they stand up and do what elected officials are supposed to do—make intelligent decisions based on the facts and research of legitimate studies?