Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2019

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Sun editorial:

Nevada Republicans should learn from Texans on school vouchers

With its Tea Party governor, restrictive abortion laws, loose gun regulations, a transgender bathroom bill headed through the Legislature and a nearly 2-to-1 Republican advantage over Democrats in its statehouse, Texas is a conservative’s playground.

That being the case, you might think lawmakers in the Lone Star State would embrace one of the centerpiece causes for modern conservatives — school vouchers.

But they don’t. And the reason speaks volumes about the nastiness of vouchers.

Texas lawmakers are resisting them because they recognize that providing state funding for parents to send their children to private schools will devastate public schools.

“In my district, public school is the community,” said Gary VanDeaver, a state representative, in a story published by the Associated Press. “If we do anything to pull those students away, then we’re harming those communities.”

True. Study after study show that vouchers are poison to public schools.

But unfortunately, Nevada Republicans refuse to acknowledge that fundamental fact. They keep pressing for the state’s version of vouchers, education savings accounts, to the point that a showdown may occur in this year’s legislative session between Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Democrat-controlled Legislature over the issue.

Sandoval and other ESA proponents, particularly state Treasurer Dan Schwartz, should take a hard look at what’s happening in Texas and other states that are stiff-arming vouchers, including North Dakota and Wyoming.

Not only would ESAs hurt the kind of rural communities that lawmakers in other states are determined to defend, but they threaten to send the Clark County School District into a downward spiral by siphoning off funding, creating a brain drain from K-12 schools to private institutions and lowering the performance of schools.

That would have a horrible effect on the community and the state. Las Vegas already faces a challenge in overcoming the weak performance of CCSD schools in attracting new businesses and in producing students with the skills and knowledge needed in today’s workforce. Weakening the K-12 system even further will only make us less attractive and competitive.

Meanwhile, smaller Nevada communities — like those in Texas, North Dakota and Wyoming — should be just as more worried. Losing schools in those towns could spell the end of them. At the very least, maintaining strong schools is critical in those towns in that recruiting businesses to rural Nevada is much more difficult than to Las Vegas, and a strong school system is an essential selling point.

But at its essence, the issue at the heart of vouchers — in rural and urban communities — is that maintaining strong public school systems gives every student a chance to excel. ESAs don’t, at least in the form they were approved by the Legislature in 2015 before the funding mechanism for them was ruled unconstitutional. The amount of funding per student isn’t enough to pay full tuition at many private schools, meaning they would do lower-income families no good. Nor would they help families with limited transportation.

That’s why VanDeaver and other old-school Republicans who embrace traditional values are resisting the so-called voucher movement. During each of the past three sessions, the Texas House has defeated voucher issues.

VanDeaver and those like him are proving that some Republicans are willing not to view vouchers as a political cause, but instead focus on what’s right for their communities.

Nevada Republicans should do the same.

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