Just months after successfully threatening an illegal strike to obtain a modest salary raise, members of the Clark County, Nevada, teachers union, the Clark County Eduation Association (CCEA), are going to have to give a big chunk of that back, thanks to a pair of recent rate hikes that will cost the average teacher nearly $1,000 a year.
The first hike came earlier this year, when the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) announced an increase that will cost the average Nevada teacher an additional $750 annually.
The second increase came last month, when the CCEA voted to increase its annual dues to $846, up from $630.
The PERS increase, like the several that preceded it, will provide no benefit whatsoever to the teachers forced to pay that added cost, which will be spent instead on the system’s $14 billion deficit.
The CCEA, meanwhile, plans to spend the extra $2.2 million that it will take from teachers each year to lobby for a $1 billion tax hike.
The union claims that higher taxes and increased spending are the only way to improve Nevada’s public schools but neglects to explain why the near tripling in spending that has already occurred since 1960 has failed to improve student performance.
At $10,200 per student, Nevada is already spending an amount comparable to several outperforming nations, like France, Italy and Spain, as well as numerous outperforming U.S. states, like Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
Rather than forcing taxpayers, including teachers, to pour more money into a broken system, teachers and students alike would be better served by addressing the root cause of Nevada’s education problem: the chronic and systemic mismanagement of public schools.
But according to the Clark County School District (CCSD) evaluators not a single school under the CCEA has had an ineffective administrator or school leader for at least the past four years. This “everyone is doing great, regardless of outcomes,” approach would be unimaginable in any other endeavor of this size or importance. Imagine a hospital administrator learning that a handful of surgeons was responsible for 100 percent of patient deaths but concluding that they were just as effective as every other surgeon.
Would anyone feel comfortable being treated by one of those underperforming surgeons the following year simply because they received a budget increase?
This demonstrates the real problem with the proposed $1 billion tax hike: the lack of genuine accountability prevents the system from improving regardless of how much money is spent.
To make matters worse, the hundreds of millions of education dollars are, in fact, spent on things that have nothing to do with education or improving student learning.
The so-called prevailing wage law, for example, takes tens of millions of dollars out of the classroom each year by requiring school districts to pay wages that are 62 percent above the market rate on construction projects. This handout to one of the state’s most powerful special interest groups will cost Nevada schools nearly $500 million over the next ten years.
And that’s just an example of an officially sanctioned form of waste.
Large school districts like CCSD lose millions more each year to the more conventional forms of waste and fraud according to Harvard scholar Lydia Segal.
In recognition of this fact, former CCSD Superintendent Carlos Garcia in the early 2000s ordered the implementation of a robust financial accounting system designed to prevent fraud and maximize transparency — but the project itself became exactly the kind of financial blackhole it was ostensibly designed to prevent.
Despite spending more than $100 million on that project, the system in place today is still unable to perform the basic tasks the district cited to justify its purchase in the first place. While all of that money was classified as education spending, it is a safe bet to assume that lining the pockets of contractors on a failed computer upgrade did little to help improve student learning.
Yet, rather than addressing the structural deficiencies responsible for this colossal failure, the legislature instead rewarded the CCSD with even more money.
And when the money does reach the classroom, it is deployed in the most ineffective way possible. Rather than treating teachers as professionals and rewarding them for their skills, teacher compensation is instead based entirely on longevity and credentials.
The refusal to reward teacher quality not only harms student learning, but also denies great teachers the raises and promotions that they deserve, and which they would undoubtedly receive in any other industry.
Rounding out this cornucopia of inefficiencies is the PERS retirement benefit offered to teachers, which, as mentioned earlier, forces current and future teachers to pay for the system’s past funding failures. The benefits are also structured in such a way that veteran teachers are penalized for working over thirty years. Needless to say, an effective compensation system would seek to retain the most experienced and dedicated teachers, not push them out.
Lastly, there is the establishment’s hostility to choice and competition, a hostility so blinding and irrational that the CCSD, amid a budget shortfall that required cuts elsewhere, actually spent over $100,000 on a marketer to persuade parents not to enroll their children in public charter schools.
The insistence that education be provided through a one-size-fits-all monopoly hurts teachers and students alike. Numerous studies have found that choice and competition help increase both student test scores and teacher salaries at public schools in jurisdictions that embrace these programs.
Nonetheless, the CCEA has stuck to its belief that more money, and only more money, will fix public education.
And that’s why, rather than addressing the reasons more money hasn’t helped in the past, the CCEA is prepared to spend $2.2 million of teachers’ hard-earned money on a political campaign to hike taxes.
Owen Shroyer takes to the streets of Manhattan.
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