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EDITORIAL: School choice expands across the country

The Chicken Little claims from teacher unions about school choice will soon be much less believable.

Choice is spreading like wildfire across the country. On Tuesday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a universal school choice bill. Next school year, most Iowa students will be eligible for an education savings account. Within three years, there will be universal eligibility. ESAs give parents a bank account, which can fund education-related items such as private school tuition, textbooks and tutoring.

In Florida, House Speaker Paul Renner is backing a universal school choice bill. Mr. Renner called it “the largest expansion of school choice in the history of our state.” The bill passed a Florida House subcommittee on Thursday. Florida has long been a leader in school choice and education reforms. Signing a universal school choice program would be a nice accomplishment for Gov. Ron DeSantis, especially if he’s preparing to run for president.

On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted about National School Choice Week. “This session, we will empower parents to choose the education path that best fits their child’s learning needs,” he said.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted similar sentiments Monday, “With parental choice, we will empower every parent to put their kids on a path to prosperity, not government dependency.”

On Thursday, the Utah Legislature sent the governor a bill creating universal eligibility for an ESA program, although funding is capped. Utah Republicans tied expanding school choice to teacher pay raises. Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen is pushing an opportunity scholarship program that would start at $25 million annually and grow by a whopping 25 percent annually.

On top of that, Arizona passed a universal ESA program last year. In West Virginia, more than 90 percent of students are eligible for ESAs.

Successful or not, these proposals make Gov. Joe Lombardo’s school choice plan look especially tepid. But while universal school choice may not be coming to Nevada this year, these states provide something useful for school choice advocates in Nevada and nationwide. They’ll offer tangible examples that can rebut many of the attacks on choice programs.

Think back to reopening schools during the pandemic. There were a lot of unknowns. Major teacher unions demanded that campuses remain closed. Allowing kids back in school would be a grave danger to students and teachers, union officials claimed.

But as schools in many red states reopened with little to no impact on health outcomes, the folly of keeping schools closed became obvious to parents across the country, even as many Democratic officials kept campuses shuttered.

That’s what you’re going to see with school choice.

“When we divert public funds to private schools, we undermine the entire public education system,” Joe Biden tweeted in January 2020. “We’ve got to prioritize investing in our public schools, so every kid in America gets a fair shot.”

“There is zero statistical significance that voucher programs improve overall student success,” the National Education Association warns.

In a vacuum, those are plausible arguments. But once exposed the light of empirical evidence, they quickly fall apart. You can see that in Arizona and Florida, which have some of the longest school choice programs in the country. They’ve seen dramatic increases in education achievement over the past 20 years, while Nevada’s has flat-lined. You can’t blame that on funding. Arizona’s per-pupil spending is less than Nevada, while Florida’s is nearly identical, per the Census Bureau.

Defenders of the entrenched education establishment ignore the importance of competition and accountability in improving outcomes. Why would teacher unions fear choice if they offered a quality product upon which parents could depend? Far from seeking to “eliminate” public schools, proponents of additional options actually seek to make public schools stronger.

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