INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - Mark Twain once said: "Education is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education." With Nevada scoring at the rock bottom of Education Week's recent national state rankings, the question seems to be whether Nevada students will be cabbages or kings.On the plus side, it appears that the Silver State's dismal ratings were driven primarily by Clark County. "By comparison to (Las Vegas), Washoe looks like someone's dream," Nevada State Superintendent of Schools James Guthrie told reporters in response to the Education Week announcement.Even if we in the north can be comparatively smug about the quality of education, the legislative session which opens in a few days will focus like a laser on Nevada's education deficiencies.Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval set the motif for this focus in his state of the state speech earlier this month. His budget proposal includes an increase of $135 million in K-12 funding including $20 million for full day kindergarten in at risk schools and a special $14 million fund to help English learners in the first 4 grades.He also proposes a change in the formula for school funding so school districts will receive more direct funding for disadvantaged kids and English learners; he plans to open the flood gates for new charter school applications and has a plan to offer corporations tax breaks in exchange for their granting scholarships in equivalent amounts to disadvantaged kids who want to attend private schools.Sandoval is acutely aware that per-pupil spending (in constant dollars) went from $3,144 in 1960 to $9,015 in 2008, and that during the same period test scores remained flat while graduation rates declined substantially. His plan is to restructure K-12 education so that state funding accomplishes some concrete results rather than continuing to throw good money after bad at the government education cartel system run by public employee unions and the legislators they support.Democrats in the legislature expressed cautious support for Sandoval's plan but complained that more money is needed. Assemblyman David Bobzien (D - Reno) said: "What we need to do is invest in all our students and have universal full-day kindergarten. We Democrats will be promoting that, making that case during budget hearings."State Sen. Debbie Smith (D-Sparks) cited Sandoval's proposal to exempt 2,700 businesses from Nevada's Modified Business Tax causing projected revenues to take a hit of $25 million. "That lost revenue is sorely needed by the education system," Smith said. The Democratic mantra sounds to me like they want to continue to throw good money after bad and are oblivious to Sandoval's successful efforts to attract new businesses and jobs to Nevada.My bride of 53 years holds a kindergarten-primary teaching credential and a master's degree in education. She spent her career teaching so I asked her opinion on this full day kindergarten controversy. "It's nice for the parents," she said, "because it cuts their babysitting expenses. But if you go from half day to full day the time will include a lunch period and a nap period with maybe a net of one additional hour of instruction."I can see how disadvantaged kids and English learners can use a little help so they can compete when they get to the K-12 starting line. What I can't see is expanding that help to encompass those who don't need it by throwing money at an unproven and unlikely scheme.Implementation of Governor Sandoval's education plan will test his powers of friendly persuasion. I'm betting on him.- Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates and has served on the Washoe County & Nevada State GOP Central Committees; he can be reached at email@example.com.
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