Friday Freakout: Three Reasons Opponents of Nevada’s ESAs Are Really, Really Wrong

Nearly 8,000 Nevada students have signed up for a program that would give them the power to use state funds to create an educational plan tailored for their individual needs.

It’s called an education savings account (ESA), and it became the law of the land in Nevada last year.

Under the ESA program, state officials would deposit money into an account for education expenses for children who sign up for the plan. Students with special needs and low-income students receive $5,700 annually in an ESA; other qualifying students receive $5,100.

Parents can spend the money on a host of education expenses ranging from books to special needs services, online education, tutoring, SAT and ACT preparation or private school tuition.

The catch? Those nearly 8,000 students who are waiting to use the program in the upcoming school year might never have the chance.

That’s because the American Civil Liberties Union and other anti-choice special interest groups are challenging the ESA program in two separate lawsuits that will be heard by the Nevada Supreme Court on July 29.

Instead of having an opportunity to build the education that best suits their needs, those students and their families might wind up with a continued sentence to attend schools that aren’t meeting their needs — and aren’t performing well overall.

Of course, that’s not how opponents see it.

It’s up to the Supreme Court now to stand up for all of Nevada’s children and reject school vouchers in favor of a public education system that is adequately funded for everyone, rich or poor. Instead of perpetuating income inequality with separate but hardly equal educational systems, the Supreme Court should remind these elected officials that good public schools are the foundation of our great nation. Let’s use our taxes to invest in all our children.

Let’s take this line of reasoning one step at a time.

1. “Adequately Funding” Nevada’s Public School System

Our research has shown that ESAs are likely to save money for Nevada taxpayers and public schools to spend elsewhere.

Contrary to opponents’ assertions that Nevada’s ESA program would “drain” or “siphon” resources from public schools, this analysis shows how it can instead offer a potential and welcome source of savings for school districts by increasing their flexibility to direct education dollars. Given the state’s current fiscal climate, it may very well benefit the Silver State to embrace educational choice policies that partially mitigate its financial challenges, even if by modest amounts.

2. “Public Schools Are the Foundation of Our Great Nation”

First, an investment in the education of the public is one piece of the foundation of our great nation. That doesn’t always mean public schools alone are responsible for America’s successes and progress. Public schools are one way to deliver public education, and they have proven to be wildly inconsistent. Some districts deliver outstanding results. Others, not so much.

Nevada public schools are, in fact, statistically the worst in the nation on several metrics, not just academic proficiency. To wit:

After years of floundering near the bottom in a widely watched report card for state education systems, Nevada has sunk to dead last.

For the first time, the Silver State fell behind all other states and Washington, D.C., in the annual Quality Counts report, which assigns overall scores to states based on student performance, school financing and other qualities of K-12 public schools.

So opponents are not really talking about protecting “good public schools,” are they? And if Nevada schools were knocking it out of the park, perhaps there wouldn’t be nearly 8,000 students waiting in line for a program that, until the court rules otherwise, is stuck in limbo, unable to launch.

3. ESAs will be harmful for Nevada kids.

We’ve already shown that ESAs can save money for taxpayers and public schools, but that’s icing on the cake.

What the author fails to grasp is that these programs—Nevada is the fifth state in the nation to adopt an ESA—put families and students first. They give families the right and means to put together an education plan that works for them, something only affluent families could do before ESAs. Opening opportunities to all families in this way improves equality in public education. Don’t believe us? Here’s what some of the parents who have applied for an ESA are saying about the program they can’t yet access:

“Public school in its traditional sense is just not working for my son,” said Shannon Churchwell, an ESA supporter.

Churchwell says an ESA, is the only way she can afford to put her son in a private school.

“Unfortunately, because we’re a lower income family, we’re trapped,” Churchwell said. “I really feel like we’re held hostage by this dysfunctional system.”

KLAS-TV (“ESA heads to NEV Supreme Court, parents, kids in limbo,” July 7, 2016)


I know there must be fear of change, but I do not believe every single parent will use the ESA to pull their child out of public school. The vast majority of parents I know have no problem with the schools. But there are people like us who need to send their child to another school or need the education dollars for other related expenses.

Stay-at-home mom Kim Presser, Reno Gazette-Journal (“One View: New education plan would dramatically change students’ lives,” June 30, 2016)

It’s been the case since the beginning of the educational choice movement that opponents prefer to focus on a system instead of the parents and children who depend on it as a pathway to a successful life and a stronger society.

And we know that once educational choice programs are in place, parents who use them are overwhelmingly satisfied with their children’s new schools.

But in Nevada, we have a unique instance where thousands of families—nearly 2 percent of K–12 students in the state—are signing up for a program that may never come to fruition out of sheer hope for something better for their kids.

On July 29, the Nevada Supreme Court will hear the legal arguments for and against the state’s ESAs.

Nevada parents have already issued their verdict: ESAs and opportunity for all.