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EDITORIAL: State superintendent upset about NLV helping students

Not even a global pandemic can prevent the reflexive desire of Nevada’s education establishment to protect its turf.

In early August, the city of North Las Vegas stepped up to help the families succeed with the challenges of distance learning. It created the Southern Nevada Urban Micro Academy, which allowed students to use city facilities for their education. That included space for students doing online learning through the Clark County School District and home schoolers.

It also offered a “microschool” alternative, run in part by Nevada Action for School Options. In this program, students in grades one through eight would be in a room with a teacher and other students. Class sizes are capped at 18 and students may attend for as little as $2 a day. These students would withdraw from the school district and complete their schooling as home­schoolers.

“Many of our students do not have the resources needed to be successful during this learn-from-home time,” said North Las Vegas City Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown.

Predictably, this raised the hackles of the insular education bureaucracy.

When a student withdraws from school, the district loses the per-pupil funding for that student. Nevermind that it also doesn’t have to incur the expense of educating — or trying to educate — that particular child. In a letter obtained by the Review-Journal, Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert worried that the North Las Vegas proposal violated the law.

“This letter is a request for additional information regarding the microschool option,” Ms. Ebert wrote in the Aug. 13 correspondence. She continued, “NDE is also seeking confirmation that the microschool program has met the requisite statutory safeguards to protect students, teachers and families.”

The department’s concern for students is certainly laudable. But it would make more sense to focus those efforts on the Clark County district itself. District officials have acknowledged that 30,000 students started the school year without a Chromebook. Twenty-thousand needed internet access. Nevertheless, state education officials didn’t appear too concerned with these obvious district deficiencies, which will surely leave thousands of students in a deep hole. Around 70,000 kids didn’t even log into the district’s learning software on the second day of school.

But it’s the North Las Vegas program, serving around 325 students, that Ms. Ebert thinks merits a nasty-gram? She should be thanking Mayor John Lee, City Manager Ryann Juden, Ms. Goynes-Brown and city employees for stepping up to help students left behind by the district. This innovative program is a rational response to these unprecedented times and provides a much-needed alternative to the district’s remote learning blueprint, which is rife with problems.

Mr. Lee responded in a cordial fashion, educating the state super­intendent on the options available to Nevada parents. He also noted that students who avail themselves of the microschool option “will have access to a computer during the entire school day,” unlike many kids still in the school district. “They will also have access to enrichment activities such as dance, yoga, DuoLingo, et cetera.”

Parents of students in the microschool will file an “Intent to Homeschool” notice. That fulfills the law’s requirements. More than that, these parents have surveyed the educational options available and decided this is best for their children.

This is what the soldiers in the education establishment both instinctively fear but don’t understand. The freedom to choose provides more accountability and safeguards than the law or a tut-tutting state super­intendent ever could.

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