Chapter 529

Apparently buried under 528 chapters before it, chapter 529 of the tax code sets up a variety of potential ways people can start to save toward their childrens’ college, if their states get off the dime. Thanks to the diligence and foresight of Treasurers going back to Bob Seale (Seale, Brian Krolicki, Kate Marshall and Dan Schwartz) and two decades of Legislative proaction, few states have implemented more of those options than Nevada.

If you’ve got young’uns in your life, check out all the state programs at nv529.org.

New Education Data

The Census Bureau has released some new data, and the website 24/7.com reached into the dataset and pulled out an education comparison. Looking at overall, all-source spending per child in public schools, by state, Nevada was ranked 43rd. Here’s the study, and here’s what they said about Nevada (it’s on the fourth screen if you follow the link):

7. Nevada
> Spending per pupil: $8,222
> Total education spending: $4.1 billion (16th lowest)
> Pct. with high school diploma: 84.9% (10th lowest)
> Median household income: $49,760 (24th lowest)

Nevada spent $8,222 per student, with much of this going to support services, including logistical and administrative expenses. The state spent just $4,782 on instructional spending per pupil in fiscal year 2012, lower than all but a handful of states. Nevada’s elementary and secondary school systems received less than $10,000 per pupil in total federal, state, and local revenue in fiscal year 2012, much less than $12,331 nationwide average. Just 34% of fourth graders were proficient in math last year, much less than the 41% of U.S. fourth graders. While nearly 30% of U.S. residents had attained at least a bachelor’s degree as of 2012, just 22.4% of Nevada residents had, less than all but six other states.

Most Interesting reading of the day

The foolish and the uneducated have little use for freedom. - Anonymous

UNLV College of Education dean Kim Metcalf, writing in this morning’s Las Vegas Sun:

Of the remaining 11 factors included in the study, none were measures of the quality of schools or education. On these, Nevada was below the national average on 10. For example, we’re ranked dead last in the educational attainment of parents. We’re also 51st in the proportion of children participating in preschool. We’re next to last in the proportion of young adults participating in any kind of postsecondary education, next to last in terms of participation in postsecondary education, 49th in the proportion of parents who are fluent in English, and 48th in adult educational attainment.

The article is long but very insightful.

Pat Skorkowsky: finally, a reformer?

Kudos to Superintendent Skorkowsky, who appears to be crushing many of the well-known closet skeletons to dust. Certainly, transparency would be a welcome addition to the public discussion that we’ve never really had about how we provide the benefit of a government-funded education in Clark County.

Today comes word that CCSD has been lying, for years, about our dismal graduation rate. Turns out they were counting kids who transferred across town as dropouts. I spent quite a bit of time analyzing and debunking CCSD statistics during my state legislative time, and today’s news is surprising not because the data it was based on was corrupt but because it has been corrected, and publicly acknowledged. Sunshine and transparency work.

Now, everybody back to working to improve the outcomes of our public education system.

Ruminating on Science

Science (from Latin  Scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.[1]

So begins Wikipedia’s definition of science on August 22, 2012. Remember – Wikipedia is subject to change by anyone at any time, both the secret of Wikipedia’s brilliance, and its Achilles’ Heel. I’ve been a licensed CPA for more than 20 years. But my subscription to Science News is even older than that. I guess that gives me an unusual perspective on the debate that drives today’s issues.

Wikipedia’s definition the day I looked it up turns out to be a thoughtful paraphrase of J. L. Heilbron‘s introduction to the 2003 The Oxford Companion to the History of Modern Science, in which he describes Science as a meld of established and theoretical explanations of the physical world. The two parts are purposefully distinct: “established” explanations (tennis balls and all models of Estes model rockets go up into the atmosphere and fall back to the ground so consistently I can predict the outcome of a given launch) and “predictions” (each of which lives apart until its last advocate quits or until it becomes an “established” explanation). They are very different halves of a sphere. As J.L. initially said,

“… modern science is a discovery as well as an invention. It was a discovery that nature generally acts regularly enough to be described by laws and even by mathematics; and required invention to devise the techniques, abstractions, apparatus, and organization for exhibiting the regularities and securing their law-like descriptions.”

Coming from an accountant’s perspective as I do, I think of the “testable explanations about the universe” portion of Science as a sort of balance sheet. It’s the state of affairs on a given day, at a particular moment. You can measure it, take pictures of it, and gather independent observers around you who can agree they saw the same thing you did.

The other part – the “predictions about the universe” a.k.a. “invention to devise…” – is much more fuzzy. It’s the most attractive theories, at any given moment, about things we don’t understand.

At times, this category has included:

  • Thinking the Manhattan Project would incinerate the atmosphere over six seconds. Instead it saved millions of today’s grandparents’ life and limb, in Japan and America.
  • Imagine: If we can just kill all the witches, imagine all the people living life in peace.
  • These astrophysicists claiming to be honing in on the Science of galaxies are idiots. They’ve been predicting their stupid Higgs bosun for decades, and can’t prove a thing.
  • Understand the shape of the skull, predict anti-social behavior.
  • Bleeding will cure George Washingtion’s cold or flu.

To be fair, at times this category has also included:

  • Pasteurizing milk reduces food poisoning.
  • Beams of radiation will kill cancerous tissue faster than it will kill non-cancerous tissue.
  • The sun will rise tomorrow, I promise.
  • Administering insulin to dying diabetics will keep them alive for decades, until some other malady claims them.
  • No, we circle the Sun, not the other way around. I promise.
  • Beta is a better format than VHS (just kidding – that’s a joke thrown in for the grandparents out there)

The “predictions” are like an income statement. “Predictions” which eventually prove consistently “testable” are pluses; “Predictions” that eventually prove false are minuses. If more predictions this year turn out to be consistently testable than false, it’s a good year and the balance sheet grows. The income statement is positive. If it’s the other way around, it’s a bad year, the income statement shows a loss, and the balance sheet shrinks.

The years just before Science figured out that bleeding flu victims was a bad idea was a time when Science probably moved humanity backwards. Sadly, those years included the year George Washington had the flu. He was retired, so his medical murder did not interrupt the course of the development of the United States of America, back when their separate consensuses were considered. But let there be no doubt: America’s best medical Scientists killed our first President.

My late friend and colleague Bill Raggio often described aggressive policy-makers as being “too far over their skis”.  Bill grew up in Reno, less than an hour’s drive from the mid-60’s winter Olympics. He was referring to how far forward a skier should lean over their skis, to make themselves go faster. The reckless pursuit of fastest can leave a skier too far over their center of gravity. It doesn’t last long, and is usually followed by “Wild World Of Sports” caliber video of tumbling skier.

Can society get too far over its skis when it takes scientific theory as fact?