EDITORIAL: Give school choice a chance

Much of what ails our K-12 education system can be solved by choice. If every parent had options beyond an underperforming neighborhood school, or had the ability to move children from an average school to a great one, improved outcomes would follow.

Choice leads to competition. Competition exposes inferiority and inefficiency while spurring innovation. Best of all, school choice doesn’t have to cost taxpayers more money.

Sunday marked the start of National School Choice Week. Its purpose: to let parents and students everywhere know they have options in education, and that with more support from their elected officials, they can have even more choices.

It can’t be said enough: Nevada needs more school choice. Each county constitutes a monopoly school district. Clark County’s is the fifth-largest system in the country, with nearly 315,000 students. Most population centers around the United States allow families to choose one of several school districts when selecting a home, but residents from Mesquite to Laughlin are stuck with just one.

The Clark County School District has made some progress in offering parents choice. Its magnet and technical and career academies are among its highest achieving campuses, and its open enrollment policy gives students limited opportunities to transfer out of the schools their homes are zoned for and into different ones. But there aren’t enough magnet schools to meet demand. And, too often, open enrollment options are limited to underachieving schools.

Charter schools — public schools that receive taxpayer funding but have more operational freedom — are popular alternatives all across the country. But Nevada is far behind its neighbors in offering charter schools as alternatives. Several states have hundreds of charter schools, but Nevada has just 32, and only 17 in Southern Nevada. Most of those schools have long waiting lists.

Nevada could do better. Among the options that aren’t available but should be: a “parent trigger” law that allows low-achieving public schools to be converted into charter campuses, and vouchers that could be applied to private school tuition. Neither of these plans would require higher taxes. And yet, because of opposition from the teachers’ unions, they have gone nowhere.

There are dozens of school choice events across Nevada this week. Local events include an introduction to home schooling class today at 7 p.m. and a charter school open house Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Both events will be held at the RISE Educational Resource Center (riseresourcecenter.org), 3460 N. Rancho Drive, on the property of the Advent United Methodist Church.

Nevada’s education system has performed too poorly for too long to justify an expansion of the status quo. Our elected officials must be willing to try new things that have a proven track record elsewhere. The more choice, the better.

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