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Parents deserve options, not delays on ESA program

The past two years have been tough for Jazmin Lopez and her three young children. The North Las Vegas Air Force reservist grieved the unexpected death of her husband, and her son started falling behind in school.

But a friend steered her family to Mountain View Christian School, where several adults provided positive male role models for her children — Isaiah, 12, Arilyn, 6 and Auryana, 5. Though she couldn’t afford the private school tuition, the school offered temporary financial aid, as a new school choice program was to start paying her tuition bills on Feb. 1.

That was until a ruling earlier this month in which a state court judge in Carson City issued a temporary injunction on the new Education Savings Account program — the most expansive school choice plan in the nation.

“I am really struggling now,” Mrs. Lopez said. “I can’t afford it without the ESA. I have already been granted a lot of scholarships. I am paying $1,000 month, and it’s hard for me to come up with that.”

More than 4,000 children signed up and qualified for an ESA by attending at least 100 days of public school. ESAs operate when the state deposits a sum of money into an account for the education expenses of a child. By law, the ESAs for special needs children and low-income children are set at $5,700 annually. For middle- and upper-income students, the ESAs are set at $5,100 annually.

Parents can use the money on tutoring, online education, special needs therapy, fees for SAT or ACT exams, books or private school tuition. The expenses truly empower parents to tailor learning to best match their child’s educational needs.

“We barely get by with Social Security with my husband’s passing, so with the ESA, our budget wasn’t going to be so thin,” Lopez said. “The children are now in a very small school, and the parents get to know each other and each other’s children and families. There is a lot I can’t do on my own, and this school does help in so many ways.”

A survey of private schools released last fall found that the ESA program would cover at least 80 percent of tuition and fees for K-5 students at half of the existing private schools in Nevada; at least 70 percent of tuition for grades 6-9; and at least 63 percent for grades 9-12.

Yet now, for parents such as Lopez, the future is in limbo, and she fears having to return her children to public school.

“My son’s grades were slipping, and children were often fighting with each other at the public school,” Lopez said. “The kids in this school are very well-behaved and are taught manners. It’s just a so much better atmosphere, especially while dealing with such a great loss. This is helping them come out of it a little bit better.”

Nevada is setting the standard for the rest of the nation when it comes to school choice. Each of the state’s 453,000 public school students can sign up for an ESA if they need tutoring, special needs services or want to transfer to a private school. This is the most extensive and competitive school choice program ever adopted in the U.S., and should provide the impetus needed for public schools to improve.

Not only is this program good for students such as Lopez’s children, but it will absolutely cause no harm to traditional public schools. In fact, according to all the data, the ESA program will help turn around public schools and improve the education of those that choose to stay in their neighborhood schools. The Nevada ESA program is a win-win for all. We hope the courts see it that way.

Robert Enlow is president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the legacy foundation of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman and wife Rose Friedman.

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