(Sharon Rossie, NPRI) – Back in 2011, during my first tenure as NPRI president, I remember going to San Francisco for a conference intended to spark interest in the school choice movement.
I remember thinking then about how, if just given the chance to go to an exceptional school, children in low-income communities could grow up to be entrepreneurs and leaders and break the cycle of poverty in their family. I thought about the students with disabilities who could benefit from a variety of services offered outside the public school system, if only their family had the ability to choose those support services. And I thought about the high-achieving students who could reach their full potential if given the opportunity to be challenged in the classroom rather than stuck.
Bringing true school choice to Nevada families has been one of NPRI’s top priorities for much of its 24-year-long history and has long been a personal passion of mine. Like many of you, I closely followed NPRI’s efforts to expand school choice in Nevada closely this past Legislative Session, and I celebrated when I read Gov. Sandoval signed into law SB302 to create the nation’s first near-universal Education Savings Accounts program.
So, when I was approached by NPRI about returning to the Institute, I couldn’t think of a more exciting time to come back. While the challenges presented by a burgeoning government, constant demands to raise taxes, and unsustainable pension and collective bargaining systems are immense, the opportunities for those of us who believe in the value and promise of freedom have never been greater.
I was reminded of that this week when I met some of NPRI’s supporters for the first time and reconnected with old friends in northern Nevada. It was encouraging to see the excitement over the fact that Nevada is leading the nation when it comes to school choice, but I think we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of the impact this program will have on turning people into lovers and defenders of freedom.
We got a taste of that last week, when hundreds of parents showed up to testify at a hearing regarding the regulations of Nevada’s new Education Savings Accounts program. NPRI’s Managing Vice President Steven Miller, who has been covering Nevada politics for two decades, said he’d never seen parents line up along the walls and spill into multiple overflow rooms at a regulatory meeting.
And on Saturday, we saw something similar when over 300 people attended the first of what will be many public events NPRI will hold to share information about how Nevada students are now eligible to receive at least $5,100 a year to be used to fund private school tuition, home-based education, online schooling, tutoring and more.
Parents are tired of having no say in their child’s education and they’re jumping at the chance to have a real choice and a real chance to put their child in an environment in which they can thrive.
In January, my predecessor, Andy Matthews, announced NPRI’s top priority for 2015 was providing solutions to help Nevada students finally get the education they deserve so they can achieve success for a lifetime. The Institute spent much of the Legislative Session advocating for the method we know will accomplish this —Education Savings Accounts — and fortunately for Nevada students, lawmakers agreed.
Now that we have ESAs, the real (and fun) work begins! I’m happy to assure you that furthering educational freedom will continue to be NPRI’s top priority for the foreseeable future because we know that the first step to creating a prosperous Nevada is to give parents the freedom to choose the educational environment that best suits their child.
We’ll soon be announcing new ways we plan to connect with and inform the public, and our citizen engagement coordinator, Karen Gray, is talking to parents and community groups daily about how they can exercise their new choice.
Next Friday — on what would have been the 103rd birthday Milton Friedman, father of the school choice movement — NPRI will host its next public event to provide information on the ESA program. If you’re in Las Vegas, I encourage you to come by our office and learn a little more about what SB302 means for your family and friends. I’d love to meet you for the first time or see you again.
For those of you reading this letter from outside Las Vegas, stay tuned for events in your area, and please feel free to introduce yourself by phone or email. I look forward to meeting new friends though NPRI, reconnecting with old ones, and working with you all to make Nevada a freer and more prosperous state.
Ms. Rossie is president of 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.