(Brent A. Jones) – As the saying goes among conservatives, public education isn’t broke; it’s broken.
As such, the Republican majority in the 2015 Legislature passed a voucher-like program that gives any parent – rich, poor, white, minority, whatever – the ability to use their public education tax dollars to educate their children as THEY choose, not how the government chooses.
Those Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), roughly valued at around $5,000 per student, could be used by parents to help pay for tuition at private schools or to assist in funding homeschool services – such as tutoring, textbooks and online courses.
The ESAs were set up very much like the Guinn Millennium Scholarships in that they were available for all students regardless of family income – though clearly those who would be most helped would be students from low- and middle-income families.
After passage of the program, school choice opponents sued to block it. But Nevada’s Supreme Court ruled ESAs were constitutional as long as they were funded from somewhere in the budget other than the public school budget.
Over 8,000 families have already applied for the ESA program. The cost to implement the program is estimated at around $140 million. The proposed state budget for the coming biennium is over $8 BILLION. So anyone truly wanting to fully fund this landmark program could easily to it.
But Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval – who only begrudgingly went along with the ESA bill in 2015 in return for GOP votes for his largest tax hike in state history – chose not to ask for the full amount to fully fund the ESA program in his budget this year. Instead he only asked for $60 million – not even enough to fund half of the families who have already signed up.
We now have about a week to go in the 2017 session. And the ESA issue remains unresolved. As such, the end-of-session horse-trading and deal-making are now well under way. And if an article in Sunday’s Las Vegas Review-Journal turns out to be accurate, even more ESA families are going to get the shaft…as well as many of Nevada’s businesses!
If the rumors turn out to be true, Sandoval is going to agree to accept even LESS funding for the ESA program than the paltry, inadequate amount he originally requested – maybe as little as $20 million of the $140 million needed – in order to get some Democrat votes.
In addition, again if the rumors turn out to be true, Sandoval will agree to kill the universal nature of the ESA program – in which ALL of Nevada’s children would be eligible – and “means test” the program in order to disqualify a large number of taxpaying families.
Again, if the rumors are true, Sandoval is prepared to cave in on the Democrats’ job-killing demand to raise the minimum wage on Nevada’s business community – eventually jacking it up from the current $7.25/hour to $12/hour – in return for a few Democrat ESA votes.
As state legislators and career education bureaucrats continue to trot out one multi-million dollar reform boondoggle program after another, ESAs are the only true potential lifeline for parents who understand their children’s future cannot wait for the latest “fad” to take effect and want to escape the public school system.
Their children need help NOW!
But Gov. Sandoval doesn’t care. He seems intent on doing the BARE MINIMUM – just enough that he can claim a legacy achievement – rather than fight for ALL of Nevada’s families. And Republicans in the Legislature appear prepared to roll over and give in to the teachers union and educrats right along with him.
ESAs were a golden opportunity for Republicans to disrupt and dramatically change the current failed public education system. But when the heat got too hot in the kitchen, they ran for the hills like scalded dogs. Profiles in courage they’re certainly not.
As President Trump would tweet: “Sad.”
Mr. Jones is a former Nevada State Assemblyman, owner of Nevada-based Real Water, and president of Nevada’s REAL Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at email@example.com