Throughout 2008 several Nevadans, including Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley (D-Las Vegas), former governor Bob Miller, casino mogul Steve Wynn and higher-ed chancellor Jim Rogers have claimed that budget cuts to education would be “devastating” for the children. In response, they have called for tax increases to raise funding for public education.
In 2006 Nevada spent $9,726 per pupil, including construction costs and school debt, an amount that has tripled since 1960 even after adjusting for inflation. Despite these increases the call for increased spending and higher taxes continues.
Here is a better proposal, instead of raising taxes on Nevadans to pay for an education system that, despite massive funding increases, has not seen improvement in decades, why not outsource our education to Estonia and have our students receive their education there?
Do not let its obscurity on a map fool you. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Estonian students not only beat American students on the important Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam in mathematics and science, they did it on a budget of only $2,800 per student in 2004.
Estonia is just one of several countries that outperform the United States in science and mathematics for a fraction of the cost. The list includes, but is not limited to France, South Korea, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Even Slovenia and the Slovak Republic beat the U.S. in science.
While many bemoan Nevada’s place near the bottom of the per-pupil spending list, in 2004 the OECD estimated that in the United States, the total cost of educating a student from primary school through high school was $112,703. This figure is well above the OECD average and still produces below-average achievement by American students.
It is hard to hear, but the socialist nation of France outperformed the U.S. by spending only $86,404 per student. South Korean students vastly outpace Americans, spending only $67,566 per pupil, while the students in the tiny country of Estonia beat the average American on a meager $39,107 in per-pupil spending.
To put that figure in perspective, Estonia can graduate a student who is better educated than the average American for the same price it takes Nevada to get a student to the fifth grade.
Efficiency is Crucial
If the U.S. were as efficient at educating its students as Estonia, Americans would save more than $72,000 per pupil over the course of his or her education. For the socialists out there, you will be happy to know that is enough money to purchase healthcare coverage for every student the entire length of his or her educational pursuits.
If Nevada ran its education system as competently as Estonia, our students would outperform the national average and at the very same time save state taxpayers about $1.6 billion a year. Unfortunately, efficiency and performance rarely register in the minds of today’s policymakers.
If more spending on education is the only solution our politicians can come up with, then perhaps we should at least spend that money where we are likely to see results. We could literally afford to ship, house, feed and educate all of Nevada’s students in Estonia for the same price we pay to under-educate them here. Just don’t forget to buy your kid a heavy winter coat.
Or, if this idea is too radical, why not try new approaches that are proven to work on this side of the pond, like vouchers, more charter schools, merit pay for teachers and tuition tax credits? That would be a start.