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Saturday, May 28, 2011

The failure of American public education

Joel Klein the former chancellor of the NYC public school system has an excellent article in the Atlantic called "The Failure of American Schools."

Too much to quote, but the basic lesson of the article is that public education today is a patronage system that creates jobs for adults...and to hell with actual education for the students.

The irony of this is that the teacher unions grew out of a need to protect teachers from political patronage but instead ended up fostering a system of political patronage where the unions wield considerable power. Of course, this system means we put jobs for adults ahead of education for students.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nevada spends billions on K-12 education

A new U.S. Census Bureau Report shows that Nevada spent a little over $8,400 per pupil in 2008-09 (excluding debt repayment and capital expenditures). "Current expenditures" came to $3.6 BILLION that year (current expenditures exclude debt repayment and capital expenditures) and would be an estimated $7.2 BILLION in the biennium - that is more than the state's general fund! (See Table 1, page1). "Total expenditures" (including debt and capital costs) came to $4.5 BILLION in 2008-09 (expenditure on interest payments alone accounted for $288 million!).

Impressively, K-12 ed had $2.6 BILLION in cash and securities on hand but a (near) nation worst debt to expenditure ratio with $5.6 BILLION in accumulated debt.

Of the $3.6 BILLION in "current expenditures" $3 BILLION was spent on salary and benefits alone! (see table 6, page 6). Salaries and benefits for "instruction" related personal accounted for $1.95 BILLION of the $3 BILLION total spent on salary and benefits.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, table 8, page 8.

Per-pupil spending came to $8,422 with salary and benefits consuming $7,050 of those expenditures (or 83.7 percent of "current expenditures")(see table 8, page 8).

While Nevada's per pupil spending ranks 45th among American states plus DC we do spend more than Canada, Germany, Korea and about as much as France and Japan. In fact, if Nevada were its own country we'd rank above average for per pupil spending among OECD nations!

While Nevada spends BILLIONS of dollars on education every year, we've proven incapable of spending the money wisely. In fact, the evidence suggests public education in Nevada is not about educating students but providing jobs to adults! Serious reform is needed: school choice, charter schools, empowerment schools, open enrollment, decentralization, ending tenure, ending seniority, ending lock-step pay, ending advanced degree bonuses; all can help improve the quality of education in Nevada.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Did Nevada teachers recieve a pay cut?

"It's good to be the king teacher!"
Excellent benefits, job security (Nevada keeps 99.4 percent of its teachers) 
and recession proof income!

Some people in Nevada have been complaining about "dramatic" cuts in teacher pay and that this might actually drive teachers away from Nevada. But have teachers received an actual pay cut?

The answer isn't clear. Teachers have received "furloughs" which means they are required to take unpaid time off.  This means their pay will be lower than it otherwise would be. However, step increases, promotions, and adjustments to the salary schedule STILL OCCUR! (On paper these pay increases also count toward retirement pension. An actual salary cut, on the other hand, would reduce that future pension - this is why teacher unions fight for furloughs instead of pay cuts -> all the pay increases occur out of sight!)

In other words, the teacher pay may be down from what they "expected" but may actually be up from the previous year!

Just look at the pay-schedule comparison (below). Data comes from the CCSD teacher salary pay-schedule for 2010-11 and 2007-08 school years.
The top portion of the graph looks at the pay and pay increase for step one across all pay ranks for teachers. The middle looks at the highest pay-schedule for each rank and the bottom looks at year 7 pay (this is the middle point for step increases on the 2010-11 pay schedule and will thus serve as a proxy for average pay).

Ranks A-C are for teachers with BA degrees (B and C are for teachers taking advanced courses but not yet earned the MA). Ranks C, D, E, F are for teachers with graduate degrees and additional coursework. Rank G is for teachers with "advanced certifications" or a doctorate (Ph.D. or Ed.D).

CCSD Teacher Pay Schedule Comparison: 2007-08 to 2010-1
(click on it to zoom in)

As you can see the pay scale for teachers on Step 1 has grown dramatically since 2007-08 school year. Inflation since then has been around 5.2 percent. In other words, teacher pay for the first step has increased 2x to 3x more than inflation.

The middle chart shows the top-end pay has not grown as fast as inflation, but this may actually be due to the fact that teachers can top out of their rank 2 years earlier! Pay has gone up, but not as fast, but you can reach that top pay 2 years earlier!

That is why I also looked at year 7 - the middle point on the pay schedule. As you can see, with the exception of Class A (which tops out at year 5) all the others see dramatic growth. Almost all the categories beat inflation most by 2x!  Toss in a small amount of furlough days and teachers may actually be making as much or more than they did when the recession began!

Basically, furloughs are a scam - it allows government to pretend it made salary cuts without actually making any salary cuts.

Any brave teacher unionistas out there want to prove me wrong? Please submit your tax returns for 2007 or 2008 and 2010 to

NOTE: 1 teacher has claimed they are not subject to furloughs. If true then teachers have had substantial pay increases since the recession started (of over 10 percent) and Sandoval's request of a 5 percent pay cut for teachers (education employees) is overly kind.  Employees make up a majority of the budget and an increase of 10 percent in salaries constitutes a significant portion of our budget shortfall.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Should she be teaching?

This is how a local teacher expresses disagreement. So mature.

Rebecca Maki Glaser, a math teacher at Greenspun Jr. High, posted the above picture (of Governor Brian Sandoval who is resisting tax increases and wants to cut education spending down to pre-recession levels) to her Facebook profile and claimed on the Facebook group "Nevadans for Funding Education" that she has put the sign on her car.

Disagree with the Governor all you want, that is fine, but don't call names. It is easy to vilify your political opponents... but it is much harder to try and comprehend their rationality. Maybe, just maybe, he's opposing more spending on education because new funds would be spent in ways that don't improve education (and thus wasted)?

Given our past spending history (a 180 percent inflation adjusted increase in per-pupil spending over the last 50 years), I think it is very reasonable to assume more spending will only be wasted on more jobs for adults rather than an actual education for students.

On a side note:

Glasser cost Nevada and Las Vegas area taxpayers $77,046 in 2009 (salary and benefits - latest data available) and it makes me wonder if she's worth that much. Maybe she is a good math teacher, but when it comes to maturity she has about as much as her 7th grade students...

By the way, Glasser's base pay of $66,003 in 2009 is 78.4 percent higher than the average Nevadan's income (income per-capita in Nevada is $36,997 according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis).

Dr. Mark Jiminez, who run's the Nevadans for Funding Education page on Facebok incorrectly claims that Nevada spends just $5,000 per pupil. Nevada's actual spending is between $8,600 and $9,000 per pupil (excluding capital costs and debt repayment) in the 2007-08 school year (latest data available for national comparison). Dr. Jiminez cost taxpayers $65,076 in 2009 - his salary has since gone up considerably because he earned an Ed.D in 2009.

Both of these teachers are well paid for their services (though we don't know if they are any good at their job, and even if we did, we couldn't get rid of them if they turned out to be terrible teachers). It bothers me that such well paid individuals (far more than the average Nevada) complain about taxing other people so they can increase funding to their own jobs while they simultaneously oppose every meaningful reform meant to ensure we use the scarce resources wisely.

I'm sorry, they may be the most caring individuals in the world, but this strikes me as pure, unadulterated self-interest.  A self-interest that is harming students because of substandard education quality.

I'd also like to remind you that paying teachers more money to have extra degrees is a waste of money as advanced degrees are not correlated with student achievement.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Future of Motoring

The government wants to push up the average automaker's fleet mileage up to 42 miles per gallon. That isn't possible with today's technology - at least not with what people want. If you don't mind a teeny tiny car, then yes, it is possible.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nevada Democrats "compromise" by ramming through legislation and demanding more spending

Nevada Democrats passed a $2.8 billion general fund appropriation for K-12 education. That is technically $450 million more than what Governor Sandoval proposed. It is also $300 million more than was appropriated for the 2009-11 biennium.

Check out the table below - this was from a time when nonsensical backward budgetary rules dominated Nevada's political thinking. Last year state agencies followed through with the old math formula and produced a budgetary request so ridiculous (they wanted a 30 percent increase in spending) nobody could take it seriously - not even the state Democrats. But, as you can see from the chart below, Nevada Democrats want to spend more than we're spending now (2009-11).

"I am not doing this to oppose the governor or to score political points; I am doing this for our children," said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas to the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Oh nonsense Senator Horsford!

If you cared about the children you would have passed the education reforms before the spending. So far, all spending does is provide jobs for adults at the expense of quality education for the children. In this way, Nevada Democrats have shown their true colors - it isn't about the children at all, but the voting adults and the powerful special interest groups.

That isn't the only spin doctoring coming from Nevada Democrats. Assembly woman Debbie Smith said, "I'm a reasonable person, and I believe in compromise and meeting people in the middle."

Nonsense again. Um, Assemblywoman Smith, you do realize you Democrats suspended normal rules to rush this through emergency legislative procedures in order to ram this through pass it in several hours time? Additionally, "the middle"  in this case means spending hundreds of millions of dollars more than we're spending now

Nevada Democrats continue to demonstrate that their definition of compromise means "my way" and "more."

The Nevada Democrats desired budget is between $7.8 billion and $8 billion, but they will "compromise" by cutting back their wish list and spend $7 billion - $600 million more than we currently spend. In other words, Nevada Democrats want to bring back the housing bubble era spending. That is irresponsible. It also isn't compromise.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

7 reasons why tax hikes are bad

Democrats tax plan even worse

While the Democrats tax plan clearly demonstrates their attempt to increase state spending and not make any budget cuts (so much for the compromise they've been talking about), they plan on paying for it with severe tax hikes - the largest in state history in fact. The Democrats want a $7 billion budget - more than our 2007-09 bubble budget. In fact, their plan is $600 million more than we're spending now, and over $900 million more than Sandoval's budget.

Their plan:

  • Prevent sun-setting taxes from ending.
  • New service sales tax
  • Margins tax

A service sales tax isn't so bad if coupled with a decrease in the overall sales tax rate, but Democrats only want to bring that down 1 point. That isn't enough.

Worse still Democrats want a gross receipts tax, only they've named it a "Margins Tax" and it technically isn't a gross receipts tax at all. It is worse.

A gross receipts tax is a tax on all revenue a business collects regardless of whether the business makes a profit. In this way it is far more stable than a traditional profits tax but it is very destructive toward businesses operating on the margin.

Democrats want a 1 percent gross receipts tax with a $1 million exemption and 1 deduction for either payroll or the cost of goods. In other words, they've just increased instability into the gross reciepts tax eliminating its one and only real advantage producing tax stability. It is still a destructive tax for any business operating on the margins as it still takes business income regardless of whether the business is profitable.

Worst of all, once passed it will be much easier to eliminate those exemptions and convert it to a more destructive gross receipts tax.

The Democrats tax plan confirms many of my suspicions, most notably they don't really care about tax stability, they just want more.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Nevada Democrats want $7 billion budget to keep the spending bender alive

Source: The Nevada Democrats themselves. I added in the pink trend line to show you the housing bubble spending Nevada's Democrats want to maintain. Nevada Democrats want $1.5 billion above and beyond the FY 2012 and FY 2013 figures.

Nevada Democrats unveiled their budgetary wish list today. They want $7.8 billion in spending - about 18 percent more than we're spending now. Of course, they realize they can't get that so they'll settle for $7 billion, far more than we're spending now,

$7 billion happens to be about as much as we spent during the economic boom in the mid 2000s - also known as the housing bubble.

In other words, Nevada Democrats want to keep the government spending bubble going. That is just irresponsible and unrealistic.

Maybe they really do believe that government spending can turn the ship around because they know how to spend our money better than we do. The problem is after 4 years they've only made things worse. I think its time to try a new tactic - namely putting the dollars back in the hands of Nevada's citizens.

Nevada Democrats define "compromise" as tax hike and more spending

Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera - the leaders of the Nevada Democrats - have long claimed the need to compromise and work together on the budget issue. They describe this compromise as the need for both spending cuts and tax increases - but what they mean is something else entirely. I've stated all along that what they really mean by "compromise" is really "tax increases and spending increases." The spending cuts are almost always imaginary.

Just like the 2009 session the Democrats are pulling the same stunt - claiming the need to cut the budget without actually cutting the budget. Between 2007-09 and 2009-11 we went from a $6.9 billion budget to about a $6.9 billion budget (to much wailing and gnashing of teeth by state Democrats and public officials). We didn't actually cut the budget until the 2010 special session.

But instead of holding steady as they did in 2009, Democrats are actually shooting for the more spending, they want $7 billion (estimated, their official figure comes out today, but I've predicted $6.8B to $7B). This is about $600 million more than we're currently spending.

The Democrats budget proposal is more ridiculous than that....

Perhaps the Republicans started off the debate on the wrong foot after all.

Sandoval's budget was about $500 million above projected revenue and Democrats attacked him for it. At the time they were claiming the need to spend a ludicrous $8.3 billion - about 20 percent higher than the state's largest budget in history. Democrats should have been laughed off the stage at the time, but the media gave them a pass. Today, no Democrat quotes the $8.3 billion figure, they've brought it down to a more "reasonable" $7.8 billion.

The difference in what they claim is necessary ($7.8 billion) and what their budget proposal will be (about $7 billion) means an imaginary budget cut of $800 million and a very real increase in spending of $600 million.

To pay for this Democrats want a gross reciepts tax on all businesses earning $1 million or more - that includes a host of small businesses. As many know, gross reciepts taxes are paid regardless of whether you turn a profit and as such is a highly destructive tax, especially to those businesses operating on the margin.

Is this a lesson learned for Nevada Republicans? Sandoval may have compromised too much from the start as Democrats never once showed any signs of being realistic or engaging in any real compromise. See my blog post "If you give a Nevada Democrat a tax hike."

The Sandoval administration has clearly played their cards better than the previous Gibbons administration, but Gibbons, at least, held Democrats to a flat budget in 2009 and achieved real budget cuts in 2010. If Sandoval wants to best Gibbons on making responsible budgets he's going to have to keep the "compromised" budget below $6.4 billion.

Please note: I am not now, nor ever have been a Republican. In fact, I've never joined a political party or donated to one.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Investing" in education?

Steve Sebelius, a columnist at the Review-Journal, may sincerely believe spending more money will improve student achievement, but his statement is kind of silly at best. Today he said,
"But like all good investments, the more you put in, the more you earn"
My friend Michael Leahy thought that statement sounded a lot like the Don McLean song "The More You Pay the More It's Worth."

Basically, Steve is assuming the question at hand. Does spending (investment) produce greater student achievement (returns)? He thinks yes, the evidence overwhelmingly says no; spending more money does not improve student achievement.

The more money you spend on education the

What about other evidence? Steve could have easily looked up the National Center for Education Statistics historical spending records to see how much we spent in the past and compared that with student achievement. If he did that he'd notice that Nevada increased per pupil spending 180 percent since 1959 and that is even after adjusting for inflation. We have NOT seen a 180 percent increase in student achievement or graduation rates. Achievement is down or flat and Nevada's graduation rates are down - 21 points in the last decade alone in fact.

Educating people is a good idea, but education is not a good investment precisely because students aren't getting an education in the first place.

Spending more money on education is, however, correlated with more jobs for adults. So ask yourself, is public education about jobs for adults or education for students?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Additional pay for additional degrees makes no sense

Big differences in pay but there is no difference in student achievement under these teachers
Note: This is the max pay a teacher with the degree can earn in the Clark County School District without additional graduate course work or National Board Certification

I submitted the following column to the RJ a little over a week ago and they did not pick it up (at least I didn't see it published) but since the Las Vegas Sun just ran an column on the subject I thought I'd post my unpublished column here.

Last month, the Assembly Ways and Means committee met to discuss a revolutionary new education bill. AB555, as it is called, would eliminate teacher tenure, the last hired first fired seniority provision, longevity bonuses for administrators, and advanced degree bonuses for new teachers and require value-added assessment of teachers.

Pretty much everyone agrees that a great teacher is the single most important factor within a school. However, we do a terrible job recruiting, retaining and rewarding high quality teachers. Tenure, seniority and lock-step pay may be partially to blame. The rest of the blame falls on our school systems obsession with certifications and advanced degrees that research shows have no bearing on an individual’s ability to become an effective teacher.

According to scholars like Paul Peterson at Harvard and Eric Hanushek at Stanford, there is no statistical difference in quality between a teacher with a certification and no certification. Yet we only hire certified teachers. Their research (along with many others) also shows that teachers with advanced degrees are no better than teachers with bachelor degrees.

In fact, there have been consistent findings in these regards since the famous Coleman Report in 1966. Even left-of-center organizations like the Brookings Institution, Urban Institute, Center for American Progress and Democrats for Education Reform agree with the research and recognize the need for reform.

The result of this research is counterintuitive and even troubling to some. Many assume that getting an education automatically makes one more knowledgeable and more capable on the job. They also assume that additional education means an individual automatically knows how to impart that new knowledge on to others.

But these are the very questions the researchers were trying to answer. Does additional education make teachers better? The answer is no.

Additional education for its own sake is a wonderful thing, however, teachers are earning substantial bonuses for this additional education on the assumption that it makes them better teachers.

In the Clark County School District, the difference between a first year teacher with a bachelor degree and a first year teacher with a masters degree is $5,655, or 16 percent. The difference between a first year BA and first year PhD is $11,435 or 25 percent. The difference between a teacher with no advanced degree training who topped out of the salary schedule and a PhD who reached the top of the salary schedule is $27,430 - a whopping 40 percent difference in pay for no statistical difference in student outcomes.

With an estimated 15,000 licensed teachers with advanced degrees in the state and an assumed $5,655 minimum bonus, Nevada spends an estimated $169 million a biennium on bonuses that have no impact on student achievement. In other words we’re just wasting the money.

While I sympathize with teachers who spent their time and money earning these advanced degrees, I have to remind myself that public education isn’t supposed to be about providing jobs for adults. Education is supposed to be about educating our children.

Although AB555 would only eliminate this bonus for new teachers, we could literally eliminate this program altogether saving the state millions of dollars and do no harm to the students. Better yet, we could eliminate the bonus and then pump that money into policies that work, possibly benefiting students.