Gang members or productive citizens — parents have the choice | Jim Clark | SierraSun.com

Gang members or productive citizens — parents have the choice | Jim Clark

Jim Clark
Special to the Bonanza

In 1787, as the Constitutional Convention recessed having completed its work, an anxious lady asked Benjamin Franklin: "So Dr. Franklin, what kind of government are we to have?"

He replied: "A republic, madam … if you can keep it."

He might express the same sentiment about Nevada's nation-leading school choice measure: Education Savings Accounts (ESA's).

Established by Nevada Senate Bill 302, the law is a totally Republican partisan measure that received not one Democrat vote. It offers parents back much of the money they pay in school taxes (currently about $5,100 per year) and allows them to direct that money to wherever they choose to have their children educated … private schools, parochial schools, online schools, etc.

The only requirement is ESA students must take and pass the same tests as all Nevada students. As sweeping a law change as the US Constitution was in its day, liberals and government monopoly school unions are already talking about reversing SB 302 when Democrats retake control of the Legislature in 2016.

Although the bill received no Democratic support, Democrats did succeed in adding a teacher union inspired clause that limits eligibility to students who have completed 100 days in a county or charter public school immediately prior to applying for an ESA.

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It was believed that clause would foreclose current private school and homeschooled students from participation. However, the law delegates to Nevada State Treasurer Dan Schwartz the duty to write regulations implementing it.

Schwartz, a solid conservative, is considering language that would deem that a single 100-day online or distance learning course from a public charter school would meet the requirement, thus obviating the need to disenroll and then reenroll in a private or home school arrangement.

The proposed regulations are still undergoing public hearings, so we need to watch this.

The first hearing on them took place in Carson City on July 17 simulcast on closed circuit TV in Las Vegas.

Participation by parents as well as opponents of the law was brisk. It is clear that parents enthusiastically embrace this measure just as government monopoly school interests oppose it.

Teacher union officials trumpet that, "ESAs will suck all the money out of the public education system." The truth is spending in the Silver State is nearly $9,000 per pupil, according to the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau.

If a student takes his/her $5,100 and reenrolls in a private school, the public school system retains a $3,900 windfall.

But it is liberals who advance the more specious arguments. Nobel Prize winning author T.S. Eliot once wrote: "Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm — but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

A prime example was a comment made at the Las Vegas hearing by University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Law Professor Sylvia Lazos, who said: "The state needs to question the assumption that parents make good decisions about their children's education." She received a round of boos from parents.

Of all people, Lazos, who is vice chair of the Latino Leadership Council, should recognize the opportunity ESAs afford Latino parents whose children must simultaneously learn the three r's and English.

Force them into a failing public school because of their zip code, and you create tomorrow's gang members. Put them in an educational environment where they can succeed, and you create educated, productive citizens.

Parents should control that decision.

Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada State GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at tahoesbjc@aol.com.