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Nevada, of all places, takes a big, innovative step on school choice

June 15, 2015

Originally written by Mike Hashimoto for The Dallas Morning News

I’ve certainly done my part to fund schools there via my entirely optional donations through its casino system.

But what Nevada has done to its public schooling system is the point. It’s innovative, forward-thinking and quite possibly what other states should consider as long as test scores and achievement rates fail to improve:

Last week, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a law that empowers 453,000 children in public schools to instead choose private schools and use state money to pay for their education.

Low-income students will get, on average, about $5,700 a year. Students from wealthier families will receive slightly less money. Federal and local funds will stay with the school districts, but state money will follow each child.

This will be something to watch.

The money will be held in an education savings account, which will be far more flexible than a typical school voucher. Parents can use the money to pay for tuition, textbooks, tutoring, fees for online courses. Parents can carry over unspent money from year to year.

Four other states have started these accounts. But Nevada is the first to cover all public school students, according to Susan Meyers of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. The foundation promotes the free market principles of University of Chicago economics icon Milton Friedman.

In short, every Nevada student who has spent the last 100 school days in a public school is eligible. That universality is what makes its effort worth watching. Glenn Cook, senior editorial writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is a fan:

How big a deal are Nevada’s ESAs? Just read the reaction of Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, the union for more than 3 million teachers. “I am terrified that there are more and more state legislators and state governors who have bought into this very dangerous idea that school is a commodity,” she told The Washington Post. “It’s not profitable for very good private schools to allow in children who are disabled, kids who don’t speak English, kids whose parents are struggling to put food on the table.”

Oh, please. ESAs will trigger private-sector investment in education and the creation of highly specialized private schools. As more parents take advantage of ESAs, more private schools will open to meet demand. And Bedrick points out that because parents have an incentive to save their ESA dollars, schools will have to keep tuition costs down. What a concept: competition.

Lindsey Burke, who studies education issues for the Heritage Foundation, and Brittany Corona from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice compare the Nevada plan to smartphones in a world of rotary dial:

This ability to separate the financing of education from the delivery of services has the potential to transform the educational landscape of America — which has significant room for improvement. The most recent National Assessment for Educational Progress scores show only 26 percent of high school seniors are proficient in math and just 38 percent in reading.

Massive centralization and spending haven’t catalyzed academic improvements, but education choice options have led to increased graduation rates, increased parental satisfaction and increased college enrollment. Decentralizing education and placing accountability back in the hands of parents, who are closest to the students and know the needs of their children best, is student-centered education reform.

Building on the conceptual foundation of vouchers economist Milton Friedman established in 1955, universal education savings accounts are, to date, the ultimate in school choice because they enable all students to have access to a top-notch, customized education that meets their unique learning needs.

Idle question: What would happen to schooling in the Dallas ISD’s borders under such a plan? Discuss.



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