No one should have to settle for a lousy school

Imagine if your favorite burger joint increased prices every few years to pay more to their managers, while offering you thinner cuts, less toppings and generally bad burgers. Would you keep going back?

Probably not.

Many Nevada schoolchildren are in a similar situation — but they are stuck with the same bad burger. Nevada public schools are constantly increasing their budgets, funded by your tax dollars, but somehow none of it is actually making its way into the classroom. In fact, while Nevada has nearly tripled student spending — inflation adjusted — student performance has gone in the opposite direction.

That’s because the money is going to pad the salaries of top administrators, not to the kids or teachers who need it most. In 2012 alone, the Clark County School District had more than 2,400 administrators and bureaucrats making six-figure salaries. So it should come as little surprise to parents everywhere that far from improving performance, the results have been increasingly disappointing.

Today, only a third of Nevada fourth- and eighth-grade students are proficient in math and reading, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress. This year the school system was graded “D” on the state’s “chance for [academic] success” index — the lowest possible ranking by the Quality Counts report.

With students performing so poorly, it’s no wonder the state’s graduation rate is the third-lowest in the nation. Our public schools are miserably failing their students, and what makes it all even more tragic is that so many students have no way out. They can’t go to another school like you can go to a better burger joint. Their families are paying a lot more while getting stuck with rotten outcomes.

Why is that?

Nevada public schools have a monopoly on service. Whereas most burger joints face competition from multiple restaurants in the same city — if not the same block — Nevada public schools do not. While private schools exist, many parents simply can’t afford private school tuition, especially when they already have to pay taxes to the public school.

The lack of alternate schools means there is little incentive for Nevada public schools to reform their practices and replace underperforming teachers or reward good teachers who are fed up and looking for work elsewhere. Perhaps that’s why the National Council on Teacher Quality gave Nevada a D- for “delivering well-prepared teachers” and a D+ for “retaining effective teachers.”

Nevada’s schools have a real problem, but throwing more money into a broken system won’t fix the real problem. There’s more than enough reason to believe our schools have more than enough funding right now based on states that do better with less. If neighboring Arizona, Idaho, and Utah spend significantly less per pupil while outperforming Nevada on standardized tests and graduating rates, then what exactly are Nevada parents paying for?

It’s time for parents to stop accepting excuses and higher taxes. School choice not only empowers parents but brings the added benefit of competition, forcing administrators to actually improve outcomes for their students rather than simply meeting their administrative demands. We need education choice in Nevada so parents can be empowered to find the best school for their child rather than be told this is the best we can do.

Twenty-two states have already taken the plunge and offered programs such as voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs, or, at the very least, a tax deduction for families looking to ease the burden from the costs of private school. Nevada took a step during the 2013 legislative session with SB311 and the so-called “parent trigger option,” and with SB445, giving tax credits to businesses that help low-income families ease tuition burdens, but unfortunately, nothing came from either bill.

Education reform is a big task, but our children deserve nothing less. Both of these bills were a good start on the road toward a quality education for our students by empowering their parents, and now it’s time for Nevada to dig deeper and finish the job.

You don’t accept bad burgers. Why accept anything less than high-quality education for all Nevada children?

Zachary Moyle is the Nevada state director of Americans for Prosperity.

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