Originally written on 2015 August 11

From official NDE press release, 2015 Aug 11:

The Nevada Board of Examiners today approved a contract between the Nevada Department of Education and CTB/McGraw-Hill to deliver the State’s Nevada Ready Student Assessment System.
Contract Amount:    $22,372,645 over the biennium

As far as I’m concerned, this is $22M that could have stayed in NEVADA, not be shipped to CA, and be spent in the CLASSROOM for some real EDUCATION, not on endless testing and insultingly intrusive data collection.

Recently I’ve been trying to figure out just where and how all the education money is being spent. Starting from first principles as my education in physics had taught me, I cannot account for more than one third of the money being spent. Perhaps there is better and more complete information out there, something specific, not just the NDE home page. As I am a scientist, not an accountant, this is what I came up with:

Nevada is said to be spending about $9500 per student, on a total public school student population of about 450,000. (The $9,500 includes $5,700 from the State plus the local school taxes on property). That’s an education budget of $4.3B. So my question is, how much of that is spent on teacher salaries, textbooks and supplies, and classroom building maintenance?

  • Let’s say we have a student-to-teacher ratio of 25. That’s 18,000 teachers.
  • Let’s say average teacher pay and benefits cost us $90,000. That’s $1.6B for teachers.
  • Let’s say each student needs 5 textbooks at an average price of $50 each. That’s $113M.

I have no idea what building maintenance costs, but my guess is NOTHING, based on complaints from school districts such as Washoe County (Reno) who have let their buildings run down so badly, having spent nothing on maintenance for years if not decades, that they now claim most have to be replaced.

If every single public school student has to be bused to school, that requires 9,000 drivers (50 kids per driver), at an additional payroll cost of $810M (the same $90K per driver) plus fuel and maintenance. Round it up to $1B.

The point is, out of the $4.3B spent every year in the name of “education,” I can account for only one THIRD of that money actually going to EDUCATION in the classroom (where is formal education taking place, if not in the classroom?) WHAT IS THE REST BEING SPENT ON? We are flushing $2.6B down some drain… or $1.6B if we account for busing. What if we do away with all the federal mandates, assert state’s rights and refuse to participate; will we even need their money? I think we could even CUT state and local taxes and thereby jump-start the State’s economy while IMPROVING the education of OUR kids.

Since 1965 when federal “help” to local schools was ushered in, the only thing that grew was administrative overhead (innumerable extra-educational projects and compliance costs) and the only thing that got worse and worse was academic performance:

  • Today’s entering college freshmen read at the 7th grade level… Don’t even ask about math competence.
  • Colleges have to offer more and more remedial courses in the hopes that they can make up for 4 years of failure in the high schools, in just one semester…
  • And just recently the NDE established a “baseline” —  based on the ACT that shows only 8% of Nevada’s high school juniors got a passing score.

That’s nothing to brag about, certainly not for $4.3B per year. School officials in the years of my youth would have died of shame with results like this, and would have moved heaven and earth to hire competent teachers, not throw money after money at the latest ill-conceived fad “du jour.”

I’ve been told that my numbers are a bit off. But I knew that; the real numbers are buried in generally and deliberately obscure budgets where items are not called out the same way that laymen like me would expect. Nevertheless the general idea is obvious. We spend much more (2 to 1 more) on everything, anything else other than actual education.