The American Federation for Children, the nation’s voice for educational choice, congratulates the winning candidates who support educational choice on their successes in Nevada’s 2020 General Election. The election results are in line with numerous public polls that have found strong support for school choice.
Statement from Valeria Gurr, Nevada State Director:
“We congratulate all the winning candidates who want to empower families to choose the best educational option for their children, and who agree that a high-quality education, including parental choice options, is a pathway to success for students in Nevada.
We are particularly pleased to see Carrie Buck, a recognized Charter School leader, emerge victorious from a very close race that was determined by just over 300 votes. It was because of her campaign commitment to give parents more educational options that the Nevada Federation for Children PAC sprang into action on her behalf, organizing families all across Senate District 5 to make nearly 20,000 phone calls and knock on more than 8,000 doors urging voters to support Carrie Buck. There is no doubt that these efforts and the tireless work of our volunteers made a difference in this race.”
The American Federation for Children is pleased to congratulate the following successful candidates supported by the Nevada Federation for Children PAC and looks forward to working with them to advance and create more educational options that allow parents to choose the right educational option for their student’s unique needs:
Carrie Buck (State Senate District 5)
Heidi Gansert (State Senate District 15)
Scott Hammond (State Senate District 18)
Partidarios de las Opciones Escolares Salieron Victoriosos en las Elecciones Legislativas de Nevada
La Federación Americana para Niños, voz nacional de las Opciones Escolares, felicita a los candidatos ganadores que apoyan las Opciones Escolares por sus triunfos en las Elecciones Generales de Nevada 2020. Los resultados de las elecciones se encuentran en línea con numerosas encuestas públicas que han demostrado un fuerte apoyo hacia las Opciones Escolares.
Declaración de Valeria Gurr, Directora Estatal en Nevada:
“Felicitamos a todos los candidatos ganadores que desean empoderar a las familias para que puedan elegir la mejor opción educativa para sus hijos y que están de acuerdo en que una educación de alta calidad, incluidas las opciones de los padres para poder elegir, es el camino hacia el éxito de los estudiantes de Nevada.
Estamos particularmente contentos de ver a Carrie Buck, una líder reconocida de las escuelas Chárter, quien salió victoriosa en una elección muy cerrada que fue determinada por tan solo poco más de 300 votos. Fue debido a su compromiso de campaña de brindar a los padres más Opciones Escolares que el PAC de la Federación de Niños de Nevada se puso en acción en su nombre, organizando a las familias en el Distrito del Senado 5 para hacer casi 20,000 llamadas telefónicas y tocar más de 8,000 puertas para invitar a los votantes a apoyar a Carrie Buck. No hay duda de que estos esfuerzos y el trabajo incansable de nuestros voluntarios marcaron la diferencia en esta elección”.
La Federación Americana para Niños se complace en felicitar a los siguientes candidatos ganadores apoyados por el PAC de la Federación de Niños de Nevada y espera trabajar junto con ellos para avanzar y crear más Opciones Escolares que permitan a los padres elegir la opción educativa más adecuada para las necesidades únicas de sus estudiantes:
Carrie Buck (Distrito 5 del Senado Estatal)
Heidi Gansert (Distrito 15 del Senado del Estatal)
Scott Hammond (Distrito 18 del Senado Estatal)
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For millions of K-12 students across America, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented interruption of critical classroom instruction time, educational programs, and services. Many students have fallen behind or will not be prepared to advance to the next grade. Many families are struggling to cope with reopening plans that do not include fully reopening. As states grapple with the best path forward to keep students and educators safe and to recover from lost time learning, while also accommodating working parents, Congress is weighing relief that would help all children and families in Nevada and across the country.
When Governor Steve Sisolak took swift action to close schools at the onset of the pandemic, he treated public and private schools and their students equally by closing all schools. It is essential that future federal and state relief support students at all schools, both public and private, equally, too. Elected officials should also prioritize more options for families during this time, not fewer. That’s why Governor Sisolak should encourage Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen to support the proposal to include private school families in relief.
Many students and families are facing acute hardship as a result of the pandemic. This is true for students attending private schools across Nevada, especially the many lower-income families facing both economic uncertainty and potential instability in their children’s education. Families seeking the best education opportunities for their children, especially those facing difficulties due to COVID-19, should be supported, as should families who cannot afford to keep children home if schools are closed.
Private school closures would be devastating for families, students and communities across Nevada, not to mention that already five private schools closed their doors impacting 300 students. It will be equally devastating, financially, for public school districts. The 4% of students attending private school in Nevada save taxpayers approximately $213 million each year. Add to this the need for more physical space in schools to implement social distancing requirements, and it is clear that we cannot afford for any schools to close their doors.
Students should be supported in the education environment that is the best fit for them, causes the least disruption to their learning and meets the needs of their families. Relief should include state-based scholarship granting organizations, such as the four organizations that already exist in Nevada: AAA Scholarship Foundation, IPOF, Dinosaurs and Roses and Education Fund of Northern Nevada, so they can continue providing scholarships to lower-income families at a time of such high need.
All children in Nevada deserve access to a quality education. As the country responds to COVID-19 and prepares for the 2020-21 school year, it is time to adopt common sense and fiscally responsible relief policies that serve the immediate needs of children and families.
Valeria Gurr Nevada State Director Nevada School Choice Coalition, a project of AFC
Para millones de estudiantes de K-12 en todo Estados Unidos, la pandemia COVID-19 ha llevado a una interrupción sin precedentes del tiempo crítico de instrucción en el aula, programas educativos y de servicios. Muchos estudiantes se han retrasado o no estarán preparados para avanzar al siguiente grado. Muchas familias están luchando para hacer frente a los planes de reapertura que no incluyen la reapertura total. A medida que los estados optan por el mejor camino para mantener seguros a los estudiantes y educadores y recuperarse del tiempo perdido de aprendizaje, al tiempo que se acopla a los padres que trabajan, el Congreso está sopesando la propuesta de alivio (apoyo) que ayudaría a todos los niños y familias en Nevada y en todo el país.
Cuando el gobernador Steve Sisolak tomó medidas rápidas para cerrar las escuelas al inicio de la pandemia, trató a las escuelas públicas y privadas y a sus estudiantes por igual al cerrar todas las escuelas. Es esencial que las futuras ayudas federales y estatales apoyen a los estudiantes en todas las escuelas, tanto públicas como privadas, por igual. Los funcionarios electos también deben pensar en más opciones para las familias durante este tiempo, no menos. Es por eso que el gobernador Sisolak debería alentar a las senadoras Catherine Cortez Masto y Jacky Rosen a apoyar la propuesta de incluir a las familias de las escuelas privadas en la propuesta de alivio (ayuda).
Muchos estudiantes y familias enfrentan graves dificultades como resultado de la pandemia. Esto es una realidad para los estudiantes que asisten a escuelas privadas en Nevada, especialmente la gran cantidad de familias de bajos ingresos que enfrentan tanto la incertidumbre económica como la inestabilidad potencial en la educación de sus hijos. Las familias que buscan las mejores oportunidades educativas para sus hijos, especialmente aquellas que enfrentan las dificultades debido a COVID-19, deberían recibir apoyo, al igual que las familias que no pueden permitirse el lujo de mantener a los niños en casa si las escuelas están cerradas.
El cierre de escuelas privadas sería devastador para las familias, los estudiantes y las comunidades de Nevada, sin mencionar que ya cinco escuelas privadas cerraron sus puertas y afectaron a 300 estudiantes. Será igualmente devastador, financieramente, para los distritos escolares públicos. El 4% de los estudiantes que asisten a escuelas privadas en Nevada ahorran a los contribuyentes aproximadamente $ 213 millones cada año. Agregue a esto la necesidad de más espacio físico en las escuelas para implementar los requisitos de distanciamiento social, y está claro que no podemos permitirnos que ninguna escuela cierre sus puertas.
Los estudiantes deben recibir apoyo en el entorno educativo que mejor se adapte a ellos, que cause la menor interrupción en su aprendizaje y satisfaga las necesidades de sus familias. La propuesta de alivio (ayuda) debería incluir organizaciones estatales que otorgan becas, como las cuatro organizaciones que ya existen en Nevada: AAA Scholarship Foundation, IPOF, Dinosaurs and Roses y Education Fund of Northern Nevada, para que puedan continuar brindando becas a familias de bajos ingresos en un tiempo de tanta necesidad. Todos los niños de Nevada merecen acceso a una educación de calidad. A medida que el país responde al COVID-19 y se prepara para el año escolar 2020-21, es hora de adoptar políticas de ayuda de sentido común y fiscalmente responsables que solucionen las necesidades inmediatas de los niños y las familias.
Valeria Gurr Nevada State Director Nevada School Choice Coalition, a project of AFC
As parents, what we want for our kids is no different from other families. We want our children to be happy and loved, to grow and learn, to flourish in all areas, to have opportunities and choices available to them that open future doors.
For years, we struggled to find the right school for our oldest son, who has autism. He was high-functioning and academically very bright but was socially and emotionally behind. This created many challenges, including finding a school that could give him the personal attention he needed as well as meet his needs academically.
He shuffled through five different schools – every single option we had available to us in the Clark County School District – and we also tried homeschooling. Sadly, none of these things met his needs. The district’s teachers were not equipped to work with our autistic child. And in larger classrooms, he wasn’t getting anywhere near the one-on-one attention he needed.
Our son came to hate going to school. We would have to beg him to go. And no wonder. He was not learning or receiving the needed guidance and encouragement. Seeing him struggle like that was heartbreaking. It took a toll on our entire family.
Finally, by utilizing Opportunity Scholarship funds, we had the keys to open new doors.
We found a school that was different — smaller classes, less transitioning and unstructured periods, more one-on-one time. The school was willing and able to teach children both traditionally and non-traditionally, through more hands-on and visual lessons, both inside the classroom and out.
We could not be more pleased with the progress our son has made in two years at Far West Academy. Now he can’t wait to go to school every day to see his friends and teachers. He is a completely different boy than before.
School choice was a life saver for us. It empowered us as parents to guide and direct our child, so he could be successful in school and after graduation. If we were to lose the Opportunity Scholarship money, the doors would once again close. We would go back to having no good options.
Nevada lawmakers, please continue the $20 million in funding for Opportunity Scholarships. Without it our child simply could not function in the school district. And think of all the other parents who are in the same boat as us. We are grateful for the program, and it has truly made a difference in our lives.
Michael and Cristin Balsamo are parents living in the Clark County School District.
Another month, another ridiculous embarrassment for the Washoe County School District. This time, former Hug High School Assistant Principal Trina Olsen was reinstated after having been fired in July of 2018, along with all of her back pay.
As reported by This is Reno’s Bob Conrad, an arbitrator made specific findings that almost all of the reasons the school district gave for firing Olsen were either demonstrably false or unproven. The arbitrator also found that the district had violated state law in the termination and that the district had been “arbitrary and capricious” and even “retaliatory” in its conduct.
Remarkably, Olsen has been publicly outspoken about the ordeal, even after the District tried to have her sign a non-disclosure agreement. (She refused.) Good for her. Citizens have a right to know when one of their most important institutions is in bad shape, and voters have a right to know when the school board is ignoring problems.
Olsen reached out to me as well and while my contempt for WCSD is well known, I’ve seen enough employer/employee disputes like this not to trust the complaints of any disgruntled employee on their face. I also recognize the dangers of confirmation bias. But I was able to obtain a copy of the arbitrator Andrea Dooley’s “Decision and Award” document (I wouldn’t have written this piece without it), which contains her findings of facts and conclusions of law as they applied in this situation. In reading it, the mind is boggled at the many layers of dysfunctional leadership at Hug High. (And the many layers in and of themselves are mind-boggling – how many vice/assistant/dean/associate/junior/apprentice/padawan principals does one school need?)
This is hardly the only high-profile legal ordeal for the District – another lawsuit is pending in federal court regarding the termination of former Special Education Director Jenny Hunt, alleging discrimination, bullying, and improper retaliation.
Who would want to work in this dysfunctional environment? When high level managers and leaders feel the need to take the extraordinary step of suing each other, and the highest levels of leadership are found in court to have broken the law and ended careers based on untrue allegations, who would apply in the first place? Who would stay, frankly?
Is it any wonder that teacher morale in WCSD (along with their collective opinion of their employer) is so abysmally low?
The problem for teachers is that they have a very specialized career track. The more solid the public school monopoly, the less opportunity they have for a “take this job and shove it” moment, at least not without completely retraining themselves or re-imagining their planned career trajectory. (Although in this, I think teachers sell themselves short – the opportunities for smart people with a little grit are endless, and plenty of people, including Yours Truly, have made successful midlife career changes.)
If teachers unions really want to show that they’re worth anything other than being an ATM for Democrats, maybe they should spend less time at candidate fundraisers and more time trying to actually make working conditions better for the front-line educators. At what point do teachers stop paying union dues to the people who ought to be empowering them and fighting the pointless administrative burdens and classroom micromanaging that is making them all so unhappy?
Once again, this is a problem that school choice options can solve in a big hurry. More school options means more employment opportunities for teachers, which means they can take their talent elsewhere.
“But that hurts the kids left at public schools!” my short-sighted government-monopoly-loving friends say. Maybe so, in the very short term. But even really crappy bosses realize that when their employees start walking out the door in significant numbers, it’s time to make some changes. If nothing else, said crappy bosses will make a change because they don’t want to be fired by their bosses for literally decimating the workforce with poor leadership and management.
Many of those people, like Gov. Steve Sisolak last week, also love to say, “But if only all that school choice money got pumped back into the traditional public schools, everything would be awesome again!” Sisolak, based on that logic, has indicated he would not renew the paltry $20 million for Opportunity Scholarships that are helping so many low income children in this state get a better education than their compulsory public school could have given them, and Education Savings Accounts are, of course, dead on arrival.
There are just shy of 500,000 public school students in Nevada, so $20 million comes out to $40 per kid. How exactly is that going to turn the tide of our low-ranked schools? You could make it $200 million and you still aren’t going to suddenly turn WCSD Superintendent Traci Davis into a competent manager or leader. Forty dollars a child won’t fix the appalling leadership failures that clearly pervade Hug High, but a significant number of families publicly walking out the door and taking their per-pupil funding with them just might give those administrators a little religion on treating their staff a lot better.
In providing a little competition to spur other humans toward innovation and improvement, school choice actually benefits public education as a whole and throughout an entire community.
School choice opponents don’t seem to understand that money alone can’t buy good leadership. (If it could, the obscenely over-paid Traci Davis would be frickin’ General Patton.) Monopolies create single points of failure. Additionally, education should not be one-size-fits-all. Trying to force every child through an identical curriculum is actively harmful to many of them. And letting teachers go on feeling unvalued while unable to escape isn’t exactly a recipe for academic excellence, either.
If we as taxpayers want to waste less of our time and money on bad managers who take for granted (and use and abuse) their best educators because they can, we must demand more investment into a wider array of public school options than we have in the past, not restrict choices for the families and kids who deserve them.
Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007. He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016. By day, he is an attorney in Reno. Follow him on Twitter @orrinjohnson, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parenting is a hard job. Yet any mom or dad will tell you that all the sleepless nights and stressful days are well worth the effort to see their child grow into a successful adult.
While everyone’s definitions of “successful” may differ, I think most Nevada parents believe their child deserves a quality education in a safe environment. I believe it, too, especially now that my kids can attend a school that meets their needs.
We tried the school the Clark County School District had assigned us to attend. However, student learning rates in critical subjects such as math and reading were well below where they should have been. For English language learners — such as my children — the data painted a grim picture of low expectations and limited options. The school’s lack of student progress and increasingly unsafe environment made me realize that I would need to find another option for my children to receive the education they deserve. As their mother, I had an obligation to do whatever I could to give them the best chance for success.
Three years ago, I applied for the Education Savings Account program, but it remained unfunded even though thousands of families like mine fought hard for it. Last year, I applied for the Opportunity Scholarship. After the Legislature allocated another $20 million to the program — which allows families with limited incomes to send their children to participating private schools — my children, Julia, Estella and Cesar were finally given scholarships.
This program is so popular, however, that hundreds of students are still stuck on a waiting list. Before this program was available, the beginning of each school year would always be a difficult time for me, as the ability to provide a supportive learning environment for my children remained hopelessly out of reach. However, all that changed when state lawmakers added $20 million in program funding last session. Words cannot express how grateful and life-changing this opportunity has been for both me and my children. Now my children are able to attend a private school that accepts their scholarships.
Without the barrier of tuition, I was able to choose a school that provided the resources my children need to be successful now and for years to come. Because of the courage of legislative leaders to put kids first, we not only gained a scholarship — we gained a school family. Now, I know that one day when they graduate, they’ll be ready for success in college.
I am so thankful to Nevada leaders for investing in my children and thousands more who finally got the chance to go to the school of their choice.
Unfortunately, the funding increase that allowed me to send my children to a school they are thriving in was a one-time boost. New Gov. Steve Sisolak has said he might not provide funding for program. This would mean that many students — including my own — could lose their scholarships and have to go back to schools that weren’t working for them.
As a Nevada parent and a former special-education teacher, it is my hope that legislators will continue their investment next year and for years to come by making the funding permanent for this important program. The children of Nevada and their future are counting on it.
One grandparent said she was grateful her grandchildren didn’t have to fear being jumped. One dad said his children are now in smaller classes than he had ever been. And another dad said his precocious son was finally enjoying school again.
All three placed children in private schools because of Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship, and were among the dozens of people who testified to lawmakers Tuesday, asking them to boost the program by another $20 million over the next two years. More than 2,300 students are receiving scholarships through the program, which faces an uncertain future as skeptical Democrats have taken more legislative control, and which may need to shed hundreds of participants if funding drops from Sandoval administration levels, as Gov. Steve Sisolak has recommended.
“Please do not disrupt the education of these students receiving Opportunity Scholarships,” said Catherine Polyak, principal of International Christian Academy in Las Vegas, where a quarter of the students receive the scholarship. “There’s a great need, and we have the tools in place to help students that have these particular needs and desire smaller class sizes and more intimate community.”
The two hours of public comment, which was far more than expected and pushed an all-day budget hearing off schedule, may be an omen of things to come in the legislative session. While the more controversial, voucher-style Education Savings Accounts program is all but off the table for a Legislature controlled by Democrats who have been staunchly opposed to ESAs, school choice advocates see an important opening in the four-year-old, more limited Opportunity Scholarship program.
It’s reserved for families from households making 300 percent or less of the poverty line, offering awards of various sizes depending on where a family falls on the income scale, and many Democrats voted in favor of additional funding for the program in 2017 as part of a session-ending compromise.
“I think elected officials in both parties are starting to wake up to this groundswell of support in our communities for school choice,” former Republican Senate Leader Michael Robersonsaid at a forum in October. “We tripled Opportunity Scholarships and I don’t want to gloss over that because the conversation is always about ESAs.”
How it works
Signed into law in 2015, the Opportunity Scholarship gives students from low- and middle-income households up to $8,132 a year to attend a private school. Businesses donate the money for the scholarship to one of a handful of nonprofit scholarship agencies and receive a credit on their modified business tax (payroll tax) liability.
In 2017, legislative Republicans vowed they would vote against any budget bills unless Democrats funded ESAs — a more sweeping program that would allow an unlimited number or students, regardless of household income, to take thousands of dollars of public education funding apiece and use it for private school tuition or other educational expenses. After a dramatic showdown, the two sides agreed to a compromise: Some Republicans would support the budget in exchange for a one-time, $20 million investment in Opportunity Scholarships.
That shot of funding is on top of the amount required by existing law — about $6.7 million this school year and growing by 10 percent each year. It has allowed the program to enlist more students than would otherwise receive the scholarship, although there are still another 1,300 students on the waiting list.
But the $20 million allotment can only be spread out over five years. Valeria Gurr of the Nevada School Choice Coalition estimates that once that time period is over and the one-shot money is spent, about 900 current participants will lose their scholarships.
That would likely put private school out of reach for many recipients and send them back to public schools — a consequence that is a tougher political swallow than opposing ESAs, which never disbursed any money.
“If a student was bullied or not pushed far enough academically, they would have to go back to that,” said Republican state Sen. Scott Hammond, who sponsored the original ESA bill. “You can have the best school next to you and it might not be what’s right for your student.”
Republican Sen. Heidi Gansert says she’ll be carrying a bill that would propose an additional $20 million for the program, as well as make some policy changes. It would remove requirements that students come from a low- or middle-income family to receive the scholarship if they have a disability, and it would add more accountability measures for the program, including better tracking of student outcomes and a survey of parents.
She highlighted the program when she delivered the Republican response to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s State of the State address, citing the case of a child named John who had autism and tried five different schools unsuccessfully before getting an Opportunity Scholarship and finding a good fit.
“It truly gives families the opportunity to find a school that best suits their child,” said Gansert.
Sisolak said he included in his budget the tax credits required by the 2015 law. In the upcoming fiscal year, that’s $7,320,500, with another $8,052,550 the year after.
But in an interview with Nevada Independent Editor Jon Ralston earlier this week, Sisolak signaled opposition to the $20 million ask that would maintain the level of funding approved under the Sandoval administration.
“Opportunity Scholarships are a complicated form of an ESA … I would rather invest that extra $20 million into our public education system,” he said. While he said he understands parents being frustrated with the quality of public schools, “the people that are advocating for ESAs should be advocating for more funding for public education … If you take these dollars out of the public school system, we’re going to have an even bigger shortfall in the public school system than we already had.”
The Nevada State Education Association, the teachers union, plans to oppose efforts to expand Opportunity Scholarships, even amid the complaints of parents that the large class sizes in public schools were not serving their children. One parent wrote to legislators that her high school-age son was not succeeding in a public school but excelled at Sierra Lutheran High School in Carson City.
“With only about 15 students in a class, the teachers have time to work with him and help him learn the material,” wrote Terry Trease. “The teachers are able to make a much stronger connection with my son which has made an enormous difference in just his first few weeks of classes.”
Goldie and Vern Pierce, who are raising their three grandsons, also expressed that sentiment. Their oldest grandson had fallen behind and was not receiving sufficient help in his public school.
“I think there are too many children in the public schools. The teachers don’t have the time to meet the needs of all students,” the couple testified. “I would like to see our tax dollars that are sent to the Douglas County School District to go to Grace Christian Academy, or wherever parents decide which school is the best fit for their child.”
Union officials agree that the classes are too large, but their solution involves a drastic ramp-up of public education funding and they’re staunchly opposed to increasing Opportunity Scholarship funding any more than the law already requires.
“We have the largest class sizes in the country, which is why we need to invest public money in public schools — so we can reduce the class sizes,” said Chris Daly, deputy director of the union. “Taking money that could go to public schools to reduce class sizes, to subsidize certain students to go to private schools — that’s only going to exacerbate the problem … Most Nevada students go to public schools and so the task at hand needs to [be to] improve all Nevada schools for all Nevada children.”
The program may be an easier political sell than ESAs because it’s “means-tested,” meaning it only flows to children whose household income is 300 percent of the poverty level or below, and operates on a sliding scale to give poorer families more money.
ESAs drew criticism in part because they would supply flat payments of thousands of dollars a year in state education money to any student even if they came from a wealthy family. The lone Democratic lawmaker who was publicly open to the program in 2017, former Assemblyman Justin Watkins, recommended the payouts be on a sliding scale.
Currently, 75 percent of students in the Opportunity Scholarship program are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, with the average household income for a scholarship recipient around $46,000. Twenty-eight percent of scholarship recipients are Latino and 27 percent are of mixed race.
Representatives from the Nevada Policy Research Institute, which supports the program, said they were heartbroken that funding might decrease and framed it as state leaders caving to the interests of the education establishment.
“If these scholarships are not continued, political leadership in Nevada will have told each one of these disadvantaged students that their shot at a good education isn’t nearly as important as protecting the political interests of the public-school system that left them behind in the first place,” the conservative think tank said in a statement.
But with Republicans firmly in the minority in the Legislature and out of control of the Governor’s Mansion, school choice proponents are trying to find support among Democrats who have historically been chilly toward the concept. In one example, the Nevada School Choice Coalition publicly applauded several Democrats after they won their elections.
“We support both sides of the aisle,” Gurr said. “We’re interested in working with whoever will support us.”