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EDITORIAL: Arizona shows Nevada the way on school choice

Helping all children find the educational options that are best for their unique needs is possible. Just look at Arizona.

Recently, the Arizona Legislature passed a bill giving every student access to an Empowerment Scholarship Account. That is Arizona’s name for education savings accounts, which give families an amount equal to 90 percent of the state’s per-pupil spending. Parents can use the more than $6,000 to customize their student’s education, paying for things like private school tuition, homeschooling materials or tutors. Unlike a traditional voucher program, ESAs allow families to mix and match services.

Previously, there were limits on who could apply for an Empowerment Scholarship Account in Arizona. Eligibility categories included students with a disability or those attending a poor performing public school. Around 25 percent of students met one of the eligibility criteria. Arizona has more than 1 million students in traditional public or charter schools. Last year, more than 9,600 students used ESAs. This shows that competition doesn’t mean the end of public schools.

More students are likely to use the program under the new law. It makes every student eligible for an ESA, including students not previously attending public schools. It’s the ultimate example of money following the child.

Corey DeAngelis, national director of research at the American Federation for Children, called it “the most expansive school choice initiative in the nation.” It’s just the latest example of broad school choice legislation. Last year, West Virginia passed an ESA program for all public school students or those entering kindergarten.

“Arizona has long been a pioneer in education choice,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey tweeted Sunday. “Now, with this historic expansion of ESAs, we’ll continue to charter the path for others to follow suit.”

After decades of failing students, Nevada must be among that group. Public school bureaucrats and their defenders claim Nevada needs to spend more to improve education. But Nevada politicians have tried that approach for decades. It hasn’t worked. The Clark County School District can’t even keep kids safe, let alone help them excel academically.

Ironically, for a brief moment in 2015, it was Nevada leading the way with school choice. Republicans had swept to power in 2014. The Legislature then passed a near universal ESA program. While the Supreme Court found the program was constitutional, it overruled its funding on a technicality.

Nevada’s ESA program didn’t last, but it showed other states what was possible. Now, Nevada students need to benefit firsthand from such a program.

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