As Nevada's lawmakers prepare for next February's legislative session newspaper headlines are blaring: "Nevada schools ask for an additional $1 billion." It's not safe to sleep because it's that time again when all the tax consumers come out of the woodwork with their hands outstretched palms up. This request by Nevada school superintendents and school boards, who have termed it "Invest '07", stunned lawmakers at the Legislative Committee on Education in Carson City recently. State Senator Barbara Cegavske (R - Las Vegas) termed the proposal "an enormous Christmas wish list."
$635 million of the request was earmarked for salaries, health benefits, continuing teacher education and incentives. The second most expensive item was $186 million for universal full-day kindergarten, including $28 million for construction of kindergarten classrooms. That would put the state of Nevada in the business of building schools along with individual county school districts, not a wise policy.
Opinions on whether teachers are adequately compensated are highly subjective and usually depend on whose ox is getting gored, but universal full-day kindergarten is a "vampire" that refuses to die no matter how many silver spikes you drive in its heart. In the 2005 legislative session Clark County Assembly Democrats looked at Nevada's enormous budget surplus (resulting from the unnecessary tax increases approved by the 2003 legislative session) and agitated to spend a chunk of it on universal full-day kindergarten. A compromise was agreed to which provided for full-day kindergarten in "at-risk" schools (including Incline Elementary School) to see if it is academically beneficial.
Although this Nevada experiment has not yet produced any measurable results full-day kindergarten was the lynchpin of State Senator Dina Titus' (D ?Ã‰ Las Vegas) recent unsuccessful campaign for governor. Gov. ?Ã‰elect Jim Gibbons is taking a wait and see approach.
Legislators contemplating full-day kindergarten should take a deep breath and ask themselves two questions. First, does it do any good? The Goldwater Institute of Arizona issued a thorough research paper in February 2005 evaluating a proposal for full-day kindergarten in that state. Researchers looked at numerous early childhood education intervention projects, including the largest and oldest ...Project Head Start... as well as the National Center for Education Statistics and found there are no lasting reading, math or science achievement differences between children who attend half-day and full-day kindergarten.
The Goldwater Institute also discussed a tendency of educators to use flawed studies and methods to convince themselves (and others) of "facts" when seeking a preordained result. One "study" compared 1st grade reading comprehension among full-day and half-day kindergarten graduates and concluded the former were better. What should have been done was an independent evaluation using random control groups and the subjects should have been followed clear through high school to see if there was a lasting difference.
The second question is do we need it? As Joe Enge of EdWatch Nevada pointed out in testimony before Nevada's Legislative Committee on Education American students do exceptionally well in international comparisons with French, Italian and German students at the 4th grade level (earliest grade for such a comparison) scoring at the highest levels. By 8th grade they score as "C" students in the international comparison and by the 12th grade as "D" students.
Nevada's elementary education system isn't broken so taxpayers don't need to fix it. Legislators should concentrate on middle and high schools where most of the deficiencies can be found.
Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates, a vice chair of the Washoe County GOP and a member of the Nevada GOP Central Committee.