Making Progress in Helping Nevada Families

At a time when the news on television seems overwhelmingly negative, one unheralded program brings hope and inspiration to thousands of families in Nevada. Specifically, a new Opportunity Scholarship program has allowed thousands of Nevada children to attend the schools that best meet their needs. This National School Choice Week, we can celebrate the ways in which more quality educational options have brightened the futures of Nevada children.

Because no two children are alike, school choice takes many different forms. Parents in some Nevada school districts can use an open enrollment option, which allows children to study in public schools outside their traditional neighborhood boundaries. Nevada also permits homeschooling, and offers selective magnet schools offering intensive programs focused on subjects like the arts or sciences. We also have a strong program of charter schools, publicly funded schools with both greater autonomy from regulations and greater accountability tied to student performance.

More recently, the Nevada Legislature expanded school choice by creating the tax credit Opportunity Scholarship program. Families of modest means can apply for scholarships of up to $8,000 funded by donations from businesses. In many cases, these scholarships can make the difference in allowing families to access the best education possible.

School choice worked for Buddy Hampton, a retired police officer and single father of three. In a recent interview, Hampton said that thanks to the Opportunity Scholarship, he can send his son Garrett to “a school that teaches him as an individual, instead of teaching the system. For some people that system works wonders, but for Garrett, it failed him.” As a gifted child who performs well academically, school choice has allowed Garrett to attend a program that better uses and stretches his talents.

Buddy Hampton eloquently summed up the case for the Opportunity Scholarship program: “School choice means to me that I’m allowed to send my son to a school that fits him, and doesn’t let him fall through the cracks—because each parent is the best barometer on how we teach our children….As a parent, I’m with my son all the time, so I know what works with him, and how to best educate him.”

This National School Choice Week, parents like Buddy Hampton—and the children like Garrett that those parents care so much about—will gather at more than 40,000 events nationwide the week of Jan. 20-26. Those events will feature real-life testimonials from both parents and students themselves about the way in which school choice has helped their lives—inspired their children, driven them to improve, and prevented sons and daughters from falling through the proverbial cracks.

As we gather in Nevada, we’ll celebrate the Opportunity Scholarship program—which hopefully will continue, and grow, for years to come. More than 2,300 Nevada families have benefited from the scholarship program last year—but more should have the ability to do so. We shouldn’t rest until every family in Nevada, and every family nationwide, has the same opportunity to succeed as young Garrett Hampton.

Valeria Gurr is Nevada State Director for the American Federation for Children.

 Photos from Las Vegas School Choice Fair: