YES on ESAs: Supply and demand will make it work

by Benjamin Owliaie

We lived in a small condo near UNLV for two and a half cramped years. We put off trying for our first child for three years.  We lived on a shoe-string budget while still managing to rack up more and more credit card debt each month. These were the major sacrifices we made to put our two girls, now 9 and 8 and products of my first marriage, into American Heritage Academy, or AHA for short. There were many minor sacrifices along the way as well. However, without hesitation, I can firmly say we would make each and every sacrifice again if we had to.

My wife, who is a saint, welcomed the three of us into her life and into her condo after we married in 2012.  Zoned for a low rated school in a low rated state, private school, in our minds, was the only option. In contrast to our zoned school, AHA offered a faith based education, focused on principles that were important to us, had small class sizes and great test scores.  Was it even a choice?

Of course there was the question of money.  I had just finished my bachelors at UNLV and was blessed to land a job in the Zappos call center.  It wasn’t exactly the “big bucks” I was making while serving in the Army, but I had no complaints about landing a good job in this market. My wife worked for a non-profit making more than me but not by much.  However, she had and annuity from the tragic loss of her father ten years prior.  So my wife of only a few months offered her annuity to help pay for her new step-daughters education. (Did I mention she is a saint?)

But what if we didn’t have the annuity?  Maybe we would have been lucky enough to get into a charter but perhaps not. What then?

What if there was another way? What if a state in the bottom two or three in education tried something new and different? Something even revolutionary? What if….it works?

The most common attack against the ESAs are that they will drain money from the public schools.  I’ve read the arguments for and against this point, but I’ll leave that discussion to smarter people than myself.  Other arguments against them that I’ve seen on Twitter and in various articles seem far less substantial.

For example, ESAs will only benefit families already in private schools who can already afford it! Our story and I’m sure countless others proves this demonstrably false. The annuity made private school feasible for our family but didn’t come without the aforementioned sacrifices, including debt.

There aren’t enough (or any) private schools in lower income areas! Well, probably not….yet.  Can I introduce you an economic principle called supply and demand? Where the ESAss create demand, new private schools will supply. This also has the benefit of lowering public school class sizes which we all agree is too high.

Not all private and charter schools are good schools. Some get shut down! Good. Shut down bad schools and someone else will fill in the gap.  Again, supply and demand. This is a long term rebuild not a quick fix; there will be bumps in the road along the way.

But private schools are just about making money! I guess I don’t fully understand this argument.  Yes, people want to make money, as do I and as do you.  If they do it by providing a good education, perhaps better than a public school can, why is this an issue?

If the anti-school choice arguments are all correct and the ESAs set Nevada back in education, which isn’t a far drop, then I’ll gladly apologize and vote for those who would seek to repeal. (Assuming they gets funded, of course.)  But if they are so sure it’s doomed to fail, why not let it fail under its own shortcomings? Fund the ESAs and let’s have a good look at what that does.  The anti-school choice crowd here in Nevada has the ultimate card to play here with far reaching repercussions. If school choice doesn’t work, then prove it.  Let the ESAs, widely considered the most liberal (classically, of course) school choice bill ever written, prove once-and-for-all that school choice is a failure.  Or, are they really afraid that it might just work…?