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EDITORIAL: ESA enrollment now open

Nevada’s Education Savings Accounts are moving forward quickly, and if interested parents fail to react accordingly, they might lose the chance to take advantage of the program.

The state’s ESAs, signed into law by Gov. Brian Sandoval this year, mark the country’s boldest and most universal school choice initiative to date. The program allows parents to withdraw their children from public school and gain control of the state funding that supports the students’ enrollment. Parents can then use that money — about $5,700 per year for students who are disabled or from low-income households, and about $5,100 per year for all other children — to pay for private school tuition, distance learning, tutoring, technology, special therapies or other educational expenses.

To be eligible for an ESA, a student must be enrolled in a public school for 100 consecutive days. ESA regulations have not been finalized, but the state treasurer’s office, which administers the accounts, is honoring state lawmakers’ intent by trying to make the program as inclusive as possible. Recognizing that many parents want ESAs but don’t want to leave their children in public school for another year, the treasurer’s office on Thursday opened an early enrollment period that should make students who attended public school during the 2014-15 school year eligible for the accounts, even though funds won’t be available until spring 2016 at the earliest.

The details of the enrollment period and the application itself are available at the treasurer’s ESA webpage: http://www.nevadatreasurer.gov/SchoolChoice/Home/

In announcing the early enrollment period, Treasurer Dan Schwartz noted that if a public school student is transferring to a private school or another educational program for the start of the 2015-16 school year, parents must submit an ESA application before the first day of classes. One day of attendance at a private school will make students ineligible for an ESA because they’ll no longer be enrolled in public school for 100 consecutive days. That means families who want to shift their children to private school this month have just three weeks to submit their application.

“Nevada families spoke loud and clear at our July 17 workshop,” Mr. Schwartz said in a news release. “They want answers, and they want them sooner rather than later. The Early Application Form allows parents to count the 2014-15 school year toward meeting the 100-day requirement.”

Bravo to Mr. Schwartz and his staff for their fast reaction to public input and for opening this window, so that no family who wants school choice is left behind. Competitive pressure is the surest way to rapidly improve Southern Nevada’s lagging education system. Too many students are enrolled in public schools because their families had no other choice. Now they have options.

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