Posts Tagged ‘school choice’

School Choice Limited But Expanding In Nevada As National Event Highlights Need For More Options

By Sean Whaley | 9:41 am January 22nd, 2012

CARSON CITY – As National School Choice Week gets under way today state officials say Nevada school children have more opportunities than ever before to choose a school that works best for them.

But one element of choice, a school voucher program, remains an unrealized and divisive issue for the state’s policy makers.

Successes include a strong charter school law that is helping make the semi-autonomous schools available to more Nevada students, expanding distance learning programs, home-schooling opportunities and the ability in the state’s largest school district for open enrollment, Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a Friday interview.

Another positive are the career and technical academies in the Clark County School District that allow students to focus on specific vocational programs, from aeronautics to fashion design, he said.

“They are remarkable,” Sandoval said. “That is a big component of choice in Clark County that is very popular.”

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Senate Education Committee in the 2011 session, also points to the state’s charter and magnet schools as examples of choice in Nevada.

“So I think we have a lot of great choices there,” he said. “We also have some decent laws on home schooling. Some parents want to have that ability to home school their kids but maybe they can’t provide sports or music so now they have that opportunity with some of the things that we’ve changed. So I definitely think it is important for parents to have some choices and options.”

National School Choice Week focuses on need for options

National School Choice Week – a series of hundreds of events shining a spotlight on the need for better educational options for children, kicked off in New Orleans on Saturday and runs through Jan. 28.

Sandoval issued a proclamation last week declaring National School Choice Week in Nevada while visiting a new charter school in Fallon. The Oasis Academy just finished its first semester with 120 students and has a waiting list, he said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval. / Nevada News Bureau.

Supporters of National School Choice Week believe that children and families deserve increased access to great public schools, public charter schools, virtual schools, private schools, and homeschooling.

School vouchers remain controversial in Nevada

But Nevada does not have a voucher program where parents could use taxpayer dollars to help pay to send their children to private schools. Efforts by Sandoval and state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, to move in that direction in the 2011 legislative session were unsuccessful.

“I think the time has come for our state to move forward with regard to school choice and see how it works,” Sandoval said. “I think it would be extremely popular. I think there is a huge appetite amongst parents to have this opportunity.

“Competition is good,” he said. “And at the end of the day, the beneficiary is going to be the kids. And my goal is for every child to have quality education (and) a great teacher in every classroom every day.”

Sandoval said he supports a voucher program with means testing and will pursue the idea again in 2013, but the approach may change based on legal rulings on such programs around the country. Providing funding to parents instead of private schools, for example, might allow Nevada to avoid the constitutional prohibition on using public funds for “sectarian purposes.”

A handful of states offer voucher programs.

Another option is giving corporations that provide scholarships to parents for private school would get tax breaks, a program used in Florida.

Many Nevada lawmakers and members of the education establishment remain strongly opposed, however, to a voucher program.

Denis said the state needs to do more for its public education system before even contemplating the idea of a voucher program.

“If we were doing everything we could for public education then I would be willing to look at that issue in the future,” he said. “But we underfund education. You want to make sure the field is level.

“We’ve got some challenges but we’ve made some great changes in our reforms, and I think we’ll continue to do that,” Denis said. “But as far as the voucher stuff, I don’t think that there is support for that.”

Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, also opposes the idea of vouchers, saying there are quite a few other options for parents.

“The courts and the constitution say there should not be the commingling of public funds for that purpose and so we are opposed to vouchers,” she said. “We believe it undermines the public school system whether it is a charter school receiving state funding or a traditional public school receiving state funding. It takes money away from the system.”

It undermines the free education for all concept the country was founded on, Warne said.

Another component of choice, the open enrollment option in the Clark County School District, has a ways to go before it is a real option for many students.

Keith Rheault, Nevada’s superintendent of public instruction, said open enrollment is limited from a practical standpoint because of a lack of space at many schools to accept students from outside their attendance areas.

“Even though there is more flexibility, the choice probably isn’t as much as you think,” Rheault said.

School choice opportunities have expanded in Nevada

Nevada now has 31 charter schools serving about 8,000 students. Nevada’s passed its first charter school law in 1997. Nevada’s ranking among the states just improved to 20th from 23rd based on a national report issued last week by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Overall charter school enrollment now exceeds that of many of Nevada’s rural school districts.

The primary reason for the improved ranking was the 2011 Legislature’s adoption of Senate Bill 212, which created a new entity to focus exclusively on reviewing and approving charter schools in Nevada, a measure welcomed by Sandoval in his education reform efforts.

Sandoval said he has asked Steve Canavero, director of the new State Charter School Authority to review the states at the top of the rankings to see what more the state can and should do to promote the creation of the schools.

The state also has 174 private schools with just under 14,000 students enrolled. But Rheault said enrollment in private schools has been flat in recent years, due in part to the tough economy and the inability of parents to afford the tuition.

Rheault said distance learning, offered to some extent by the school districts and particularly in charter schools, is growing quickly in Nevada.

“The Nevada Virtual Academy, for example, I think started in 2007 with about 400 students, and they are strictly a distance ed school,” Rheault said. “I think they are over 2,000 students this year. We probably have over 5,000 or 6,000 students being educated just by distance education programs.”

But the option exercised by most parents is to send their children to the public school system run by locally elected boards in each of the 17 counties. For the most part, children attend the school they are zoned for by each district.

Public school enrollment was projected to total just under 422,000 this year.

National School Choice Week comes at a busy time for education reform in Nevada

On Tuesday, a panel of Nevada state lawmakers will begin looking at news ways of funding public education. And on Thursday, the state Board of Education is expected to receive the names of six finalists for the state’s top public education job. The names of three finalists will be forwarded to Sandoval for the position of state superintendent of public instruction, an appointment he has said is one of the most important he will make as governor.

The 2011 Legislature changed state law to allow the governor to pick the schools chief. Until now, the state Board of Education picked the superintendent.

The state is also pursuing a waiver to allow for flexibility in implementing the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Sandoval supports the move, which is expected to allow the state to tailor the requirements of the law to meet Nevada’s unique characteristics.


Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he will bring the voucher bill again in 2013:

012212Sandoval1 :37 state of Nevada.”

Sandoval says the time has come to move forward with school choice:

012212Sandoval2 :31 school choice bill.”

Sandoval says competition among public and private schools will benefit the kids:

012212Sandoval3 :17 classroom every day.”

State Sen. Mo Denis says Nevada offers parents a lot of school choices:

012212Denis1 :25 and some options.”

Denis says the state needs to fund public education before considering vouchers:

012212Denis2 :18 field is level.”

NSEA President Lynn Warne says the courts oppose vouchers:

012212Warne1 :30 choice of theirs.”

Warne says vouchers undermine the concept of a free public education for all:

012212Warne2 :22 was founded on.”


Senate Panel Hears Proposal To Move Nevada Toward School Choice

By Sean Whaley | 8:24 pm April 12th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A proposed amendment to the Nevada constitution to allow a future Legislature to create a school voucher program so parents could get state funding to send their children to private schools, including religious schools, was heard by a Senate panel today.

Senate Joint Resolution 10, if ultimately approved by Nevada voters, would not create a school voucher program. Instead, it would clarify that using public funds to educate children at religious schools would not violate a constitutional prohibition on using tax dollars for a sectarian purpose.

The legislation, sought by Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, would make it clear in the state constitution that a voucher program including religious schools would not violate Nevada’s Blaine Amendment dating back more than 140 years, which prohibits the expenditure of public funds for “sectarian purposes.”

Courts have rejected voucher school programs in other states because of these Blaine Amendments.

The Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections took testimony on the measure, the first voucher school proposal to get a hearing in the 2011 legislative session. The hearing featured testimony from several well-spoken children in Las Vegas asking members of the committee to support the legislation.

Roberson said Nevada’s Blaine amendment dates back to the 19th century and is a relic of anti-Catholic bigotry from that time.

“Blaine amendments were passed as a direct result of the nativist, anti-Catholic bigotry that was a recurring theme in American politics during the 19th and early 20th century,” he said. “SJR10 would simply give the people of Nevada the opportunity to decide at the ballot whether the current Blaine amendment is good policy for 21st century Nevada.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval is seeking the same constitutional change in support of a school voucher program. The governor’s proposal, Assembly Joint Resolution 8, has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, spoke in support of SJR10, but said also the governor would pursue a hearing on AJR8 as well. AJR8 contains the same language as Roberson’s bill, but also includes a section describing how the voucher program would work.

The language in AJR8 would allow a parent to send a child to private school and receive in exchange at least half of the funding that the public school would have received if the child had attended public school. The remaining half would be made available based on financial need.

Erquiaga said there are currently 18 voucher programs operating in 12 states.

“I think you all know by now this governor supports school choice and school vouchers as part of that program,” he said.

The proposal, which was not immediately acted on by the panel, saw opposition testimony as well.

Craig Stevens, representing the Nevada State Education Association, said private schools can and should exist, but they are private to keep government regulation out of their classrooms. Why should a private school receive tax money if it is not going to be accountable to the taxpayers, he asked.

Nevada has choice, with magnet schools and charter schools, but they are all public schools that are accountable to taxpayers, Stevens said.

Also testifying in opposition was Allen Lichtenstein, a Las Vegas attorney representing the ACLU of Nevada, who said in his prepared remarks: “SJR10 attempts to do away with the wisdom of the early founders of our state, and a mechanism used to insure religious harmony for well over the past century, for a new scheme that in the name of furthering education, is, in fact, designed to aid religion with our tax money.”

Joyce Haldeman, representing the Clark County School District, said the district’s school board is in opposition as well.

In his testimony, Roberson said the proposal would not create a voucher program. If it was approved by the Legislature in two sessions and then by the voters, it would clear the way for lawmakers to craft a school choice program that would allow tax funds to be spent at religious schools, he said.

Roberson said if created, a voucher program would improve public schools by making them more competitive. School choice does not drain funding from public schools either, he said. States and cities that have school choice programs have increased per pupil spending, Roberson said.

Audio clips:

Sen. Michael Roberson says the prohibition on spending tax dollars on religious schools in Nevada dates back to 19th century religious bigotry:

041211Roberson1 :11 early 20th century.”

Roberson says his proposal would let voters decide if this prohibition should be repealed:

041211Roberson2 :12 21st century Nevada.”

Roberson says his proposal would not immediately create a school voucher program:

041211Roberson3 :23 existing federal law.”

Roberson says school choice programs don’t financially harm existing public schools:

041211Roberson4 :08 the program began.”

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Gov. Sandoval says the governor supports school choice:

041211Erquiaga :18 of that program.”