OPINION: Say yes to ESA funding fix
by Richard R. Becker
For the four decades I have lived in Nevada, I cannot recall a single legislative session where politicians didn’t attempt to rein in and wrangle what most describe as a failing education system in our state. And yet, inexplicably, if any of them did anything, they only made it worse. It is not just our education system that is failing, it is our legislators.
Now, once again, we are engaged in great battle between political lines. Except this time, the first in 40 years, Sen. Scott Hammond introduced a bill that would finally provide educational choice in Nevada by infusing an additional $60 million into our education system, reducing class sizes in public schools, and granting parents more fiscal freedom to choose the best educational path for their children. The bill wasn’t even heard.
The audacity of those who would do nothing and preserve a status quo of educational failure is unnerving. Thank goodness Gov. Brian Sandoval came to the rescue and introduced a nearly identical bill, SB506, to ensure it is heard, testing whether this state and our legislators are mature enough to stop allowing others to politicize this issue. It is important to remember that SB506 is not about politics. It is very clearly about allowing parents to make the best educational choices for their children.
It is too late for my daughter. The Legislature failed her when she needed it most. She is currently in fifth grade and was headed for Faith Lutheran Middle School & High School until our lawmakers failed to act in favor of ESAs last year. The school is now out of reach.
Like many families, our education budget could not keep pace with the cost of tuition. Funding ESAs would have helped offset the growing gap between our education budget and the cost of tuition, ensuring our daughter could have continued on the path she has worked so hard to obtain. The delay in funding stripped us of that choice.
We have since scrambled to find other educational options for her. But since we did not “win the lottery” to be accepted into an existing charter school and have been unable to reconcile the cost of an alternative private school, her educational path remains uncertain.
Some may argue that she should enroll in whatever public school she is zoned for, making the leap from a class size of 15 to 35 and taking her chances. But, in a larger sense, as parents, we cannot in good conscience take a chance and place her in a system that nearly failed her brother and certainly failed my sister and her two sons when we already know what kind of environment would provide her the best chance to succeed.
As someone who teaches educational outreach classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I know all too well that educational success is often dictated by the right environment for the student and developing their love for education, unhindered by the distractions that plague our public education system. As educators, we want students to both be challenged and challenge themselves while experiencing a sense of anticipation and excitement in their accomplishments. This is how they develop into contributing members of our community, role models and leaders who make a difference.
For this reason, I urge you to listen to the voices of parents all across our state who know what is best for their children. The alternative funding source for ESAs, one that does not take any money from public schools, now exists. Supporting SB506 allows this funding to be infused into our greater education system.
This is a critical step toward improving the education system in our state as it will free up educational funds and reduce class sizes at public schools. The alternative is to allow a political agenda to roll back the progress finally being made for the first time in 40 years. As such, if you are part of or side with the well-funded lobbying efforts to block a better education solution for Nevada, then you are directly responsible for Nevada remaining in the bottom five states for education, a statistic that can easily be tied to our lack of economic diversification and need for more social services.
Make no mistake. This could be our last chance to change the education system in Nevada for the better. ESAs are a win-win in that they will support a life-changing program that provides children the opportunities they deserve to succeed. We have to resolve that this will be the year that all this hard work to do the right thing was not done in vain, but rather that Nevada — Democrat and Republican — stood up to special interests and voted for educational choice so our children may succeed, better preparing them to pursue degrees and contribute to our communities as tomorrow’s leaders, teachers, doctors, engineers, artists, and whatever else they might dream up.