Since the Clark County School District (CCSD) educates 3 out of every 4 children and spends $3 out of every $4 on K-12 education in the Silver State, examining its budget provides a reliable estimate for the overall health of spending in Nevada. So how are we doing in this economic downturn?
Since the massive 2003 tax hikes began funding K-12 education in 2004, CCSD's total budget has increased 9.2 percent per-pupil, operating budget 9.8 percent and salaries and benefits for employees 12.1 percent. From the end of one recession to the end of another, CCSD has more money per-pupil, even after adjusting for inflation. Hardly tough sledding and we suspect the same story is true for most of the other school districts in Nevada.
So even with the "massive budget cuts" K-12 education has seen in the last two years, per pupil spending is still higher today than it was from 2000-01 through 2005-06 school years.
But as you've heard from media reports and pundits (almost daily) for the last two years is that education has been "cut to the bone."
Since the recession began at the end of 2007, CCSD's per-pupil spending from the general operating fund (yes, even adjusted for inflation to 2010 dollars) has declined by a "massive" 1.01 percent.
Yup, 1 percent budget reduction - right down to the bone.
But as I've stated numerous times, the operating budget ($6,900 per-pupil) isn't the total budget ($11,900 per-pupil). CCSD's total budget per-pupil has declined by an "impressive" 3.3 percent.
So are the children really suffering with a 1 percent decline in the operating budget and a 3.3 percent decline in the total budget? Hardly, it's the policymakers and bureaucrats that are "suffering" because they have to make adult decisions on how to use scarce resources more effectively.
"Staffing hurt by budget cuts" writes the Las Vegas Sun. Yes, that is true, in part. But when you take a close look at taxdollars devoted to salaries and benefits for K-12 education in Nevada you'll notice that salary and benefits outstrips inflation and student enrollment growth combined - even within the last couple of years.
2004 was the first full school year in which the 2003 tax increases (largest in state history) were available to fund education (also the first year available in detail from the Clark County School Districts detailed budgets). Since 2004, CCSD's general operating fund (what they consider the day to day operating budget for the school district) increased by 9.8 percent.
Salary and Benefits for CCSD employees grew by 12.1 percent - more than the operating budget and total budget.
This isn't surprising. After all, in 1955 the Clark County School District employed 1 person for every 20 students; today they employ one person for every 8.6 students. We have more employees in education earning far larger salaries and benefits, but is this investment producing the results we need?
Maybe it is time we start thinking about the outcomes for children rather than how many jobs K-12 education can provide for adults?
FYI, if you think 2004 is an arbitrary figure to select, that date is higher than 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 with 2000 being the low point in the last decade. And if you are worried about the recent budget cuts, these increases are AFTER the budget cuts. In fact, per-pupil spending devoted to salary and benefits hasn't gone down...AT ALL since the recession started.