Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 | 2 a.m.
If Gov. Brian Sandoval acts as expected on the state’s education savings account law, he’s about to put a nasty blemish on his legacy.
Months after the Nevada Supreme Court issued a permanent injunction against the law’s implementation, it’s all but a given that Sandoval will try to pluck it off the scrap heap and try to push it through the Legislature during this year’s session.
Want to make your voice heard on the ESA law?
Here's how to contact Gov. Brian Sandoval
• Email: http://gov.nv.gov/Contact/Email-the-Governor/
• Regular mail: Gov. Brian Sandoval, State Capitol Building, 101 N. Carson Street, Carson City, NV 89701
• Phone: 702-486-2500 (Las Vegas), 775-684-5670 (Carson City)
Find and contact your Senate and Assembly representative by visiting http://mapserve1.leg.state.nv.us/whoRU/ and entering your address.
It’s a bad move. Here’s why:
• About that legacy: Entering his last session as governor, Sandoval has frequently been a breath of fresh air in an era when many political leaders consider compromise a cardinal sin, and when a sickeningly large group of Republicans have become little more than drones for the Koch brothers, the NRA and other conservative special interests. Whether Sandoval was embracing the Affordable Care Act, dropping the fight against same-sex marriage or supporting a tax increase for public education, he showed he was willing to spit out the conservative Kool-Aid, reach across the aisle and follow the will of the voters in a purple state. So it would be disappointing for him to champion the divisive ESA law, which is an offshoot of the conservative Republican cause of school vouchers and which passed along deep party lines at the tail end of the 2015 session.
• It’s out of step with voters: Republicans were in control of both chambers of the Legislature during the 2015 session, but lost their majorities last year when voters swept in Democrats. That should be a loud and clear message to Sandoval to back off of ESA.
• ESA is a Godzilla of a law: Taking state funding away from the state’s K-12 system and funneling it toward private schools will hurt public schools, especially those in low-income areas. The practical effect of the law, which provides about $5,200 per student to parents (or about $5,700 for special-needs students or those from low-income families) would be to help wealthy parents offset the cost of their children’s private school tuition. Meanwhile, for families that struggle financially, it wouldn’t provide enough money to fully pay for private schooling at many institutions. Beyond that, low-income families often struggle with transportation and therefore would find it difficult, if not impossible, to get their kids to and from private schools in other neighborhoods. The overall outcome: It would prompt an exodus of affluent students, who tend to achieve higher than their disadvantaged peers, from the public school system, pulling financial resources away from it while leaving it with a higher concentration of lower-performing students.
• The push has failure written all over it: The Supreme Court ruled that while the law itself passed constitutional muster, the funding mechanism didn’t. That emboldened ESA proponents, who said it could be easily revived by finding an alternative funding source. But given that the ruling essentially said state funding for education couldn’t be channeled to families to spend on private schools, opponents argue it won’t be simple to find another funding stream.
• There are more crucial issues in education: To his credit, Sandoval led the state to a huge step forward in 2015, when lawmakers approved a tax increase for K-12 schools. But there’s more work to be done — such as establishing a weighted funding formula that would help schools with large percentages of English language learners and students from impoverished families. The ESA fight will only take up time better spent on reforms that would help all Nevada students.