NO on ESAs: Nevada should learn from failed Indiana voucher program

by Heather Witt

Nevada ranks last in the nation in public education, according to Education Week’s 2017 Quality Counts Report. Fifty-first out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. Our public schools have been failing for a number of years now. So isn’t it time we provide students with the opportunity to escape these failing public institutions? Don’t our students deserve the ability to escape these failing schools and attend schools that will better serve their needs? How can we, as a state, provide parents with the opportunity to choose better schools for their children? School choice along with Education Savings Accounts seem a clear and appropriate answer.

But what if we’re asking the wrong question? What if, instead of asking how we can provide parents with the opportunity to choose better schools, we ask what we can do to support struggling public schools? Especially since it’s generally the students in the worst performing schools who are unable to capitalize on voucher programs, as they often lack the transportation needed to get to those “better” schools, regardless of the cost of their tuition. Additionally, Nevada’s ESAs are not sufficient to cover the full tuition of many private schools and would likely only subsidize students families who’ve already made that choice.

The Washington Post recently reported on Indiana’s voucher program. After five years in implementation, with the requirement to first attend a public school swiftly lifted by the Indiana legislature, more than half of Indiana’s voucher recipients have never attended the state’s public schools and only 3% of new recipients in 2015 lived in the boundaries of F-rated public schools. The Post also reported on research that found Indianapolis students who used vouchers to transfer from public to private schools had no change in their language arts performance and had a decline in their math performance. Before seeking to fund a similar program in Nevada, taxpayers deserve a full and complete understanding of the impact on student achievement, on diversity in schools, and on the funding of our public schools.

This is my 6th year teaching in a Title I middle school, were a significant number of children qualify for free or reduced lunch. The last two years, I’ve fed my children breakfast in the classroom every morning. In addition to lacking sufficient food at home, many of my children lack sufficient financial, educational, and/or emotional support. They don’t have books, they don’t have Internet access, they don’t have parents that are able to help them with their homework. They have siblings to care for, they have work to do, they have social and emotional problems that I couldn’t imagine.

How about instead of giving parents a choice as to where to send their kids – which inevitably still leaves these kids behind –we instead provide them with the support they need from their public schools? How about we care more for our children? Provide them smaller class sizes so that teachers can build stronger supportive relationships. Make sure they have books at home. Provide them with the social and emotional support they need. How about we take the millions of dollars our state wants to invest in a state voucher program and fully fund our public schools? Why is that not an option?

Source:  Brown, Emily and McLaren, Mandy. How Indiana’s school voucher program soared, and what it says about education in the Trump era. Washington Post, 12/26/2016