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EDITORIAL: School choice needed now more than ever

The past year has provided a stark object lesson for why students and families desperately need school choice. Little wonder that national polling continues to show it enjoys strong support.

Nearly two-thirds of voters now support school choice, according to a recent survey by the American Federation for Children. Support is even higher among African American and Latinos, at 74 percent and 71 percent, respectively. Parents of school-age children support school choice, too, 65 percent to 27 percent.

Will Democrats listen to these parents or their establishment patrons in the teachers unions?

Schools in Clark County will finally begin to reopen in the next month for younger students. In the interim, educational choice has been a godsend to thousands of families, allowing them to select alternatives to the status quo. That could include charter schools, private schools, online schools or home schooling.

To help families pay for private options, many plans allow the government to provide a portion of the per-pupil funding it would have spent on traditional public schools. Education savings accounts, tuition tax credit scholarships and vouchers are different ways to accomplish this.

The reasoning for school choice is straightforward: Parents best know the needs of their children, and increasing competition for the public school system creates incentives to improve performance. Parents are better positioned to determine which school and learning approach will lead to success for their children.

Rampant school closures over the past year provide an excellent example of this. Some parents prefer full-time distance learning. Some prefer hybrid learning. Others want a normal classroom experience.

Well-off parents enjoy the luxury of being able to make this choice. Some private schools have been meeting in-person the entire school year. Faith Lutheran, the largest private school in Nevada, moved from hybrid learning to full-time in-person instruction a few weeks ago. Parents also had the option to keep using distance learning. Some charter schools also offer in-person classes.

But most parents can’t afford private school tuition, even though many schools cost less per student than what Nevada already spends. A 2015 survey by Ed Choice found that the median tuition for private elementary schools in Nevada was $6,400. For comparison, Nevada planned to spend more than $10,000 per student this year, not including construction costs. That spending plan did take a modest hit during last summer’s special session.

This means most low- and middle-income parents were stuck with whatever the district offered. For too many families that has meant lower grades and an increase in mental health problems.

School choice offers a better way. Lawmakers would do well to embrace it this session instead of pumping money into a broken system that remains closed even when students need it most.

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