Jim Clark: School choice still a work in progress
March 10, 2014
Choice. That's the bedrock right inherent in a true democracy. Freedom to choose your leaders, to choose where you want to live, to choose where you may want to move if you get tired of your first choice, to choose whom to marry, to choose where to work.
Choice has been a fundamental American right since this country's revolution against King George and the British.
School choice, however, is still a work in progress. The basic public education model involves a system of taxpayer financed disembodied bureaucracies which build schools, hire teachers and establish zoning lines to create transportation efficiency and manage classroom capacity.
Whichever of their zones you reside in that's where your kids or grandkids will go to school.
Incline Village/Crystal Bay has evolved somewhat from that stricture with additional available educational choices of the Lake Tahoe School, the eLearning Café and Tahoe Expedition Academy in Kings Beach.
Private school alternatives have tuition requirements which must be paid even though our obligation to finance the disembodied bureaucracy that runs our government schools continues whether or not our kids (grandkids) don't attend their facilities.
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School choice is at least partially bipartisan. Republicans universally support school choice. Most Democrats do to the extent it does not drive a wedge between them and the powerful teacher union.
President Obama owed his ability to get into college and law school to his grandmother, a Hawaiian banking executive, who used her resources and influence to get him admitted to the exclusive Punahou private school in Honolulu. Obama's Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is a proponent of school choice.
Free market economist Milton Friedman established the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice which supports many kinds of options.
They have identified, and in some cases developed, the following alternatives: vouchers which would divert taxpayer funds attributable to each child into a sort of education "food stamp" which the child can take with him to any type of qualified education provider to pay for services; education savings accounts wherein parents can require school districts to place funds attributable to their child (children) in a government authorized savings account to cover costs of private school tuition; and tax credit scholarships in which tax credits are awarded to businesses or individuals who donate in equal or greater amounts to nonprofits that provide scholarships.
Schooling options, in addition to government schools, include: private schools, charter schools (public, taxpayer financed schools run by local boards of parents and teachers), homeschooling and online learning.
According to the latest figures for the U.S., there were 6 million students in private schools, 2.3 million in charter schools, 1.5 million being homeschooled and 2 million engaged in online education.
The Nevada Legislature rejected Governor Sandoval's efforts to implement a voucher system and tax credit scholarship plan so the Silver State is somewhat behind Wisconsin, Ohio and Washington, D.C., which have implemented voucher programs for poverty and minority students.
Nevada lawmakers have approved a charter school law and online education programs.
Currently there are 32 charter schools in Nevada serving 21,000 students. Some have achieved outstanding academic results such as Coral Academy of Reno (now in Las Vegas too), the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy and Somerset Academy, both of Las Vegas.
Charter schools seem to thrive in urban areas. In New Orleans 91 percent of students are educated in charter schools. In Detroit, the figure is 51 percent, and Washington, D.C., 43 percent.
While the Silver State does not offer the spectrum of educational choice, the Friedman Foundation envisions there are still enough options to fit the needs of most Nevada students.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates, and has served on the Washoe County and Nevada state GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at email@example.com.