(Sharon Rossie, NPRI) – So who are the families applying for Education Savings Accounts, Nevada’s best-in-the-country school choice program?
Nevada State Treasurer Dan Schwartz last week gave us all some of the latest data.
Of the over 3,000 applicants, over half of the students came from families earning less than $65,000 a year. Over 20 percent of the families qualified for free and reduced lunch.
This is before any money has been dispersed, before regulations have been finalized and even before any final determination has been made whether kindergarteners are eligible.
That’s an unqualified success. Arizona’s more-limited ESA program, which is the country’s oldest ESA program, has just 1,311 students in total.
Clearly, parents are responding in record-setting numbers — demonstrating a significant pent-up demand for educational freedom.
Naturally, the usual crowd that hates the idea of parents and students having choices is out to put a negative spin on what is great news. They argue that too few of the “right” children are using this program, because more of the applicants came from zip codes with higher average household incomes than from zip codes considered low-income.
First, if any parents now have an opportunity to improve the education of their children, that is a great thing. I firmly belief that all children matter and personally rejoice that any parents now have a better pathway for their children than before.
Second, over the last several years, school district officials in Clark and Washoe County have been bemoaning that classrooms are overcrowded, especially in growing suburbs. Just months ago — using such overcrowding as an excuse — state lawmakers unconstitutionally passed a $4+ billion property tax increase without voter approval. But now that ESAs are about to relieve school-district overcrowding, dropping attendance by close to one percent, that’s suddenly a bad thing?
Apparently school overcrowding is a bad thing until it’s not.
The clique that incessantly — and baselessly — demands more spending on failing public schools should actually be thrilled by these numbers. That’s because every child using ESAs actually increases per-pupil spending for the students remaining in public schools!
Third, talk about moving the goalposts. Before any money has been distributed, over 600 families that qualify for free and reduced lunch have taken advantage of this program. That’s huge. A new ESA program in Mississippi has a cap of just 500 students. Total. We have more students than that using our ESA program who qualify for free and reduced lunch.
Fourth and most fundamentally, the faction that is trying to spin these numbers as some sort of negative is the element that has long worked to prevent families in poorer neighborhoods from having more options.
It makes complete sense that — before ESAs — private schools tend to be sited in parts of town where the median income is higher. Private schools have to pay the bills and, by definition, poorer zip codes are going to have fewer families able to afford private schools.
It’s basic supply and demand. ESAs, however, change that paradigm. Now every single public-school student has $5,000 in his or her backpack.
It doesn’t matter if you live in the poorest or the richest part of town: Now every family can customize each child’s education.
The reality, moreover, is that private schools are very interested in coming to Nevada. Current private schools also have new hope when it comes to expansion.
But there’s a problem. The ACLU and the Rogers Foundation have challenged the constitutionality of ESAs. And while brilliant attorneys with the Attorney General’s Office, Institute for Justice, Goldwater Institute and NPRI think those challenges are baseless, they are delaying investment by private schools otherwise interested in coming to or expanding in Nevada.
After all, why invest tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in a new private school in a low-income neighborhood, if a bad Supreme Court decision could render your investment worthless? The mass influx of new schools Nevada kids need awaits a good high court ruling.
When every student in a disadvantaged neighborhood is getting $5,000 in his or her backpack, parents, churches and other private organizations will be starting schools in those neighborhoods. It simply awaits resolution of the constitutional challenge.
Because we at NPRI know that Nevada kids can’t wait on the Nevada Supreme Court, the Institute is working hard to let all Nevada parents know about ESAs. Even if brick-and-mortar schools aren’t yet sufficiently available, online classes, tutors and homeschooling option are.
To learn more, check out our website, NevadaESA.com. You can inquire about our grassroots organizing efforts.
Sharon Rossie is president at Nevada Policy Research Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank that produces and shares ideas and information that empowers people. For more information, please visit www.NPRI.org.