Deep Cuts

By: Mr. Wilson on March 26, 2009
Look, I agree with the Platte Institute's position that some of Nebraska's spending and tax policies are out of whack. I also agree that some of Nebraska's public school structures are anachronistic and inefficient. But I have a hard time giving the report (PDF) a fair shake because I get distracted by one of the suggestions:
Consider increasing the student-teacher ratio in Nebraska’s public school classrooms
The single most effective and simplest policy to improve public education would be to decrease the student-teacher ratio; increasing the ratio might be an effective short-term money saver, but over time the costs of a diminished school experience in Nebraska would hurt us dearly. Mine is not a reflexively pro-public school opinion. On the contrary, over the past few years my opinion of public schooling has soured considerably. One of the reasons: public school teachers too frequently do not have the resources they need to effectively teach the kids in their classrooms. Increasing the student-teacher ratio will only make that problem worse. Seeing a noted economist propose what is, to me, such a transparently terrible "solution" to Nebraska's problems makes it very difficult for me to take the rest of the report seriously. What do you think of the report? Is it more right than wrong, or more wrong than right?


See what your friends and neighbors have to say about this.

March 26, 2009 at 2:22PM

What struck me was Goss’s desire to keep “young, working age people,” in Nebraska and yet he wants to raise tuition at public universities. That is not only self-serving (He’s at Creighton) but nonsensical.

March 26, 2009 at 3:27PM

When I first saw this article, the headline made me wonder if my offhand comments a few months ago had been taken to heart. Unfortunately, this seems to be case only so far as to support the authors’ predetermined conclusions.

Much of the report lumps all the states surround Nebraska together, making comparisons with the states that most “resemble” Nebraska (Iowa and Kansas) difficult. No normalization of state revenue and expenditures based on net federal transfers. Few attempts made to explain why Nebraska might have diverging numbers from other states. (For example, our roads spending was in line with border states until 2003…that year being the start of the I-80 expansion project was not mentioned.)

I did find it interesting that we do devote a higher percentage of K-12 spending to actual educational instruction than any surrounding state, sadly, was also have a much higher percentage devoted to administration.

On a positive note, I did like that they had the courage to point out that Nebraska has far too many school districts, even though that suggestion will go over like a lead balloon in rural areas. I only wish they had kept going and looked at the overall efficiency of the number and types of local government subdivisions we have.

Finally, link to the full report, ya chump! 😉

March 26, 2009 at 7:00PM

I also think we should reduce the number of school districts but his suggestion to reduce them to one per county doesn’t make much sense.

One of his big points is the most expensive districts are those with few students and the second most expensive are those with huge populations.  Sort of like the story of the three bears, there is a size that is just right. If we went to one per county we would distort this even more.

Matt Platte
March 26, 2009 at 10:03PM

... as I’m too lazy to read the full report.

“Nebraska has far too many school districts…”  As stated, this sounds like a fact, but, in fact, this is just an opinion.

And since we’re just pitching opinions, here’s mine: I’d say the lamentable e.goss and the previous posters are looking at a symptom, not the problem.  Problem is, corporate farming (a.k.a. AgriBiz) has decimanted (centimated?  millimated?) the rural population and that, my friends, is the real problem. 

Create a local and regional economy with an emphasis on sustainable agriculture instead of giant petroleum-based hydroponic fields and you’ll have a better, more secure food supply, a thriving rural/regional economy and lots of smaller, happier schools. 

Next question?

Berk Brown - Platte Institute Editor
March 27, 2009 at 4:10PM

Thank you for creating conversation about our latest study report. I just wanted to quickly comment about your concern as it pertains to raising the student:teacher ratio:

The recommendation is to raise the current level of 13.83:1 to the national median ratio of 15.11:1. We do in fact pay a premium for having this low ratio, and the question here is whether or not this premium produces a better education for the student than our friends who have an extra student in each classroom.

For the record, I have a child in public elementary school and a child in a public middle school, so I am sensitive to the needs of an outstanding public education system.

However, I always want to make sure I am maximizing my investments. And that’s what this comes down to - am I getting better measureable performance for the extra money I am spending?

Mr. Wilson
March 27, 2009 at 4:38PM

<em>And that

Eric S
March 27, 2009 at 5:43PM

Not that it means it will make sense here in NE, but growing up in TN, the school districts are directly under the county government. Each county is its own district.

Also, the student-teacher ratio cut doesn’t make it better for people (like myself) looking for a teaching job. Hope that doesn’t take effect until I get a job.

March 27, 2009 at 7:15PM

Neat-o idea. I agree with this.

March 27, 2009 at 7:54PM

Nor do we see anything in the study, (I have read the entire 54 pages) where it measures the quality of the highways, or public safety, or public welfare.

To quote the introduction “Most importantly, this study also offers recommendations for reducing spending in five key areas in Nebraska.”

Why is that “most important?” To me, quality is more important than expense. I am not saying that money is not wasted and we could not do things more efficiently.  But sometimes you get what you pay for.

March 28, 2009 at 5:26PM

This is twice now that the Platte Institute employees have come here to field questions about one of their reports. I don’t necessarily agree with all of your institute’s suggestions, but I want to offer big-time kudos to you all for joining the debate here.

Matthew Platte
March 29, 2009 at 4:44AM

What’s inherently wrong with being above average when it comes to education?  I still haven’t read the report but it sounds like the report says little or nothing about the *results* of a Nebraska education, just that some parts of the country spend fewer dollars per pupil on education.

Tell ya what, I’ll listen to your education recommendations when they are accompanied by a companion plan that would have the stock exchanges in NYC and elsewhere run on a similar basis - where success is measured in trading the maximum number of stocks for the least profit going to the middlemen, with a premium on holding stocks for the long term such that more frequent trading automatically and exponentially reduces profit for the middlemen.  After all, what’s fair for schools should be fair for stocks, right?

March 30, 2009 at 1:10PM

This makes no more sense than your rant about sustainable agriculture.  What does any of this have to do with the stock market?

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