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School choice? Not so fast

Many Nevada students graduate high school with above-average educations, going on to success at college and in the professions.

A dedicated teacher usually deserves some credit.

Those same dedicated teachers will tell you no factor is more important to academic success than parental support. Children have the odds stacked far more in their favor if they come from a home where books and magazines are read and discussed, where educational achievement is supported, respected — even expected.

But the promise of universal public education is that the schools will succeed with all kids, not just the ones with every hereditary and environmental advantage. And at some schools, clearly, this isn’t happening.

Wealthy parents have options. They can send the kids to private schools — which have to perform, or lose their customers. Or, such parents can opt to make do on one income while the other spouse home-schools the kids.

But poorer families with children trapped in underperforming schools have few such avenues available.

There is a solution, already working well in many jurisdictions from the inner cities of the rust belt to sunny Arizona. Simply hand that family a voucher representing a goodly share of the tax money that would otherwise be spent to pay for that child to attend a public school where he or she is academically neither challenged nor exalted: allow that child to “take the money with them” to a private school of their choice.

In a best case scenario, not only do the children thus get superior educations, but the failure of the schools in question becomes obvious from the number of empty seats, while the administrators of that failing school get the message where it really counts — in “per child” money evaporating from their budgets.

It was an early measure of the power of Nevada’s entrenched educrat status quo that the voucher bill introduced in the state Senate this year by Human Resources and Education Committee Chair Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, already contained a sop to such failed campuses, reassuring the education establishment that these schools would continue to get unearned tax money for years after these children fled — “ghost money” to educate “ghost children” that weren’t even there.

The railroads used to do this, buying off their unions by continuing to pay firemen to shovel coal long after they’d switched to diesel locomotives. The practice was dubbed “featherbedding.”

Sadly, Mr. Washington’s attempt to placate Nevada’s intransigent educrats proved to be not enough. Senate Bill 305 was withdrawn for lack of support in Carson City last week, replaced with Sen. Barbara Cegavske’s far less threatening Senate Bill 158, which proposes private school vouchers — and/or public school choice — only for “special education” kids.

But even that proved too radical for reactionary Democrats Steven Horsford of Las Vegas and Joyce Woodhouse of Henderson, who toed the union line and voted “No” as SB158 moved to the full Senate on a 4-2 committee vote.

Shame on them. Isn’t it the Democrats who are always claiming to act “for the children”?

Ms. Cegavske’s bill is a good one, and deserves approval. What’s sad are the tiny baby steps Nevada’s lawmakers are reduced to, while other states make far greater strides toward setting their children free.

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