Education Freedom Pledge offers ray of hope for Nevada families

Nevada families rally in support of the state’s Education Savings Program, which encountered legal challenges and was never funded.

Editor’s note: Florida lawmakers who have signed the American Federation for Children’s Education Freedom Pledge include Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., Sen. Joe Gruters, Rep. Anthony Sabatini, Rep. John Snyder and Rep. Alex Andrade.

You might be asking yourself why, in a state like Nevada that remains among the lowest ranked in the country when it comes to quality education year after year, legislators do not want to give parents access to different educational avenues.

Or to even dare to think about doing things differently.

In 2015, Nevada enacted its Education Savings Account Program. The intent was to offer students approximately $5,100 per year (plus an extra $600 for low-income or special-needs students) that could be used for a wide range of eligible educational expenses, such as private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, online courses and homeschool curriculum.

The program immediately encountered two separate legal challenges and was never funded.

Then, at the end of the state’s legislative session in June 2019, the Nevada Legislature approved a bill to eliminate the voucher program that had been unable to operate since the state supreme court had declared it unconstitutional. It was the first time in U.S. history that an ESA program was repealed after being enacted.

Despite the thousands of parents who once applied to the program and the hundreds who showed up during rallies and testimonies to fight against the repeal, school choice in Nevada still remains a hotly debated issue today among legislators.

Most Republicans in Nevada continue to show support for school choice. This is evidenced by the recent display of the entire Republican Assembly Caucus signing the American Federation for Children’s Education Freedom Pledge, becoming the second state in the country to do so.

Unfortunately, there continues to be less support from Democrats for school choice, or perhaps I should say, there is support among Democrats, but they get threatened by the teacher’s union every time they dare to speak up in support of families.

Throughout the country, school choice has become a popular winning issue during the pandemic. Major media outlets called this the year of school choice.  For the first time, parents became aware of the importance of having school options. Virtual instruction also brought education to families’ living rooms and forced parents and guardians to become cognizant of how their children were doing in school.

Yet, in Nevada, school options for parents have remained limited. The only private choice program, the Opportunity Scholarship, helps less than half of 1% of the entire population of students in Nevada. Parents also often complain about not making the long waiting list of charter schools.

The pandemic only made things worse for students in Nevada. As the Review Journal reported, just 10.2% of African American students tested proficient in English. In math, the number was a “jaw-dropping” 3.9%. For Hispanic students, the number, 15.7% were proficient.

But if the recent Virginia election is any reflection of what could happen nationwide, there could be hope for a state like Nevada, where the unions strongly oppose giving parents any sort of choice; voters could decide to elect legislators that support school choice – especially now that they have a place where they can become informed about who supports them with the Education Freedom Pledge.

If parents are victorious in the next round of elections, incoming legislators could finally enact a program that will help a larger percentage of students. Despite the programs chosen – education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships or public choice – students in Nevada finally will be able to enjoy the opportunities they need to succeed.