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VICTOR JOECKS: Education is so bad, Sisolak unintentionally argued for school choice

Nevada’s education system is doing so poorly that Gov. Steve Sisolak is now making arguments for school choice. If only his actions aligned with his rhetoric.

Sisolak filed for re-election on Monday. He said that “more needs to be done” for education in Nevada. That’s a pretty stunning admission given that he and his Democratic allies have been running the state since 2019.

But this comment was the most unexpected: “It doesn’t matter if you’re living in Summerlin, or Green Valley or an urban core,” he said. “All kids are entitled to a quality education, and they shouldn’t be discriminated against based on their parent’s bank account or their ZIP code.”

Sisolak is exactly right about this. The current campus zoning system traps many kids in failing schools because of where they live. Wealthy parents can afford private school or to move to a neighborhood with better schools.

Low-income parents don’t have that option.

The current teacher shortage is a great example of how the status quo hurts low-income children. The lack of teachers varies dramatically by school. You get one guess whether high- or low-performing schools have more openings.

U.S. News and World Report lists Advanced Technologies Academy as the district’s top high school. It has three job openings for teachers. West Career Technology Academy is listed as the second-best school. It has four openings for teachers.

In contrast, Eldorado High School has 27 open positions. Some of those openings were posted last October. Western High School has 18. Both were two-star schools during the 2018-19 school year. That’s the most recent rating, thanks to the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic. No traditional public high school received a one-star ranking that year.

If teachers are paid the same regardless of where they teach, it’s little wonder they will flock to better-performing schools. Or they might prefer a school close to where they live.

More money won’t fix the problem Sisolak correctly identified. Nevada’s politicians, including the governor, have tried that approach for decades. But throwing money into a broken system doesn’t fix it. It makes it only more expensive.

The solution is to give parents and students a choice. Nevada’s per-pupil spending in the 2020-21 school year was around $10,000 — not including capital costs. Give parents the choice of sending their child to public school or receiving $7,000 in an education savings account. That money could be spent on private school tuition, home-schooling or other education expenses.

School choice ends education discrimination “based on their parent’s bank account or their ZIP code.” Under that plan, low-income kids would have a chance to select a school that works for them, just as higher-income families already do.

Unfortunately, Sisolak has been a fierce opponent of school choice. He signed a bill repealing Nevada’s near-universal school choice program. Republicans passed that in 2015, but a legal challenge stripped the funding. The program never went into effect.

Sisolak correctly identified a major problem in Nevada’s education system. Too bad he keeps opposing the solution.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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