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Education Savings Accounts empower parents, not special interests

It is time for Nevada to finally lead the nation in education. By passing the most inclusive educational choice program in America, the Silver State has taken the first step toward achieving that goal.

Unfortunately, Nevada's Education Savings Accounts are now on hold — and there are some opponents to the reform who would like to see the program killed completely.

For decades, Nevada has struggled with one of the worst-in-the-nation public school systems. Roughly 40 percent of fourth-graders are functionally illiterate, and the state's overall graduation rates are among the lowest in the nation.

According to the defenders of Nevada's failing system, the reasons for the underperformance are complex. They list the need for more teachers due to overcrowded classrooms and a lack of special education services as the top reasons for the state's abysmal record on K-12 education.

But strangely enough, these are exactly the sort of things ESAs are in a position to fix. When students take advantage of Education Savings Accounts, they are able to pursue the educational options that best suit their learning, while simultaneously reducing the burden on the public school system.

And because local school districts will continue to receive a portion of state funding — as well as local and federal funding — for students that it no longer has to educate, widespread use of ESAs will actually provide public education with more resources per-pupil.

Defenders of the status quo, however, refuse to acknowledge one of the most glaring issues facing the current K-12 education system in Nevada: Failing public schools have an effective monopoly to which struggling families are subjected.

Parents who lack the resources to take control of their children's education are often left to cope with a one-size-fits-all public school regime. Each child has individual needs in education, and ESAs give parents the ability to offer their children opportunities equally as unique.

After all, empowering parents, rather than bureaucrats, to tailor their children's educational experience is the single most effective way of ensuring those children can make the most of their schooling.

And children who take advantage of ESAs won't be the only ones to benefit. Even students who remain in the public school system are poised to see new opportunities for success. Study after study has demonstrated that when parents are given more control, the broader system reaps the rewards.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice compiled a list of 23 empirical studies regarding the impact education choice has on the public school system. Not a single gold-standard study came to the conclusion that educational choice harms the academic experience of children who remain in public school.

Only one study found that it made no difference. The other 22 demonstrated that academic outcomes in public schools actually improved.

And the reason is simple: With increased choice, the children who remain in public school do so because their parents have determined it to be the best option for them.

With programs such as ESAs, students who can benefit from tutoring, special needs instruction, online education or private school are no longer trapped in a system that fails to appeal to their potential. And with Nevada's program being the most inclusive in the nation, this residual positive impact will be exponential — for the whole state.

The status quo is broken, and even its defenders acknowledge it is failing our children. ESAs, on the other hand, constitute a proven policy of empowering parents to take control of their child's education.

It's time to put our children's future before politics and embrace policy that directly benefits students, rather than special interests. By defending ESAs, we can make Nevada the nation's leader for opportunity in education.

— Michael Schaus is communications director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. For more, visit http://npri.org

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