By Ron Knecht 



Kenny Belknap, who teaches AP and Honors US Government at a Las Vegas public high school and is a member of the Clark County teachers union executive committee, wrote an opinion piece in 

The Nevada Independent this week.  He wailed about the likelihood the Nevada Legislature will have to cut K-12 funding due to the sudden and massive economic damage from coronavirus and shutdowns ordered by Governor Steve Sisolak.

From his article, we ought to be concerned about his poor knowledge of his subject matter and what he’s likely teaching his students.

Excerpts that summarize his argument:

“To see Gov. Steve Sisolak propose that K-12 education be cut by over 150 million dollars in the upcoming school year is devastating.”

“Without more funding, nevermind having money cut from the budget, there is no foreseeable way to safely and effectively educate our students for the coming year.”

“If the leadership of this state can’t find the courage to raise taxes to save our schools, they should not be the ones taking on the task of creating a plan to reopen our schools.”

To debunk this nonsense, let’s start with the big picture.  Being old school, I understand the purpose of government and public policy is to promote the public interest.  That means two things: maximizing aggregate human wellbeing and flourishing; and fairness.

As I showed 18 months ago in my final Controller’s Annual Report (CAR), maximizing economic growth maximizes human wellbeing, including human flourishing via education, improved health care, and better diets and living conditions.

All history has shown that reliance primarily on market economics maximizes growth and promotes fairness.  In a mainly market economy, people get income and accumulate wealth roughly in proportion to the value they deliver to others (as determined by those others).  Not in proportion to their political activity.

A substantial economic literature based on real data shows that limiting the size of government relative to the overall economy helps maximize growth and the public interest. 

As discussed in the CAR, government at all levels in the US has been sub-optimally large since about 1960 — while continuing to grow relative to our economy. 

So, to maximize growth and thus human wellbeing and fairness, we must shrink government spending, not increase it.

Nevada is no exception. 

Mr. Belknap fails to acknowledge the key fact: total state spending over the last 13 years (the longest period for which comparable data are available) has risen in real terms about 30 percent faster than incomes of Nevada families and businesses.

So, state spending is our problem, not lack of revenues. We need tax cuts, or at least to hold the line, not to pass yet another tax increase as we’ve often done recently.

Moreover, state K-12 spending has risen even faster than total state spending, while all other state spending except health and human services, has declined in real terms. If state K-12 spending is insufficient, that is strictly due to the mismanagement of school districts, especially in Clark County. 

They have embraced administrative bloat and inappropriate mission creep, and they are not steering revenues to the classroom as they should.

Further, the current economic crisis has extended the damage to Nevada families and businesses. So, now Mr. Belknap demands the public sector not only be held harmless but indeed be allowed to further burden families and businesses as they struggle with their income cuts.

No doubt he does not teach the fundamental facts and principles I’ve outlined above to his students. From his arguments, he almost certainly teaches politically correct progressivism.

Besides the points I raise above, he should also teach public choice theory, which shows how predatory special interests like public employee unions subvert the public interest to benefit themselves and their pet causes. With election contributions and lobbying, they capture legislators, governors and bureaucrats to benefit themselves and short the public.

A key technique they employ is demagoguery and intimidation. Thus, his statement:

“If the state moves forward with the proposed cuts to education, it will send a loud and clear message to all of Nevada’s students and teachers that their education and health are of lesser importance than the looming election campaign.”

What shameful, dishonest rot.

Ron Knecht, MS, JD & PE(CA), has served Nevadans as state controller, a higher education regent, economist, college teacher and legislator.  Contact him at RonKnecht@aol.com.