Nevada divided over landmark school voucher program as it heads to top court
Opponents attack ‘reverse Robin Hood’ program that would incentivize parents to abandon public schools by offering $5,100 education savings accounts
here are cockroaches inside the lockers at Hyde Park middle school in Las Vegas, so Victoria Piñeiro, 13, carries her lunchbox, violin and heavy backpack with her all day long. She attends classes under ceilings that leak during rainstorms. And on hot afternoons, school is often canceled because the air conditioning has broken down.
Victoria told Nevada lawmakers this at an educational forum in April 2015, begging them to prioritize funding for a state school system ranked dead last in the nation.
Instead, in June 2015, the state went on to adopt the most far-reaching voucher-style program in the US, incentivizing parents to abandon public schools with annual $5,100 education savings accounts (ESAs) for private schooling – regardless of household wealth or income level.
But Nevada’s “school choice” program, originally scheduled to begin in January, is on hold pending arguments on 29 July in the state supreme court. A group of parents are suing to kill the program, claiming that it illegally relies on money reserved for public schools. The ACLU is also challenging the law on grounds that state funds cannot be used for religious purposes, such as parochial schooling.
Critics of the vouchers say they will make a bleak situation worse – Nevada received the lowest grade in the nation, a D, in Education Week’s 2016 state report card because of poor school funding, lackluster student achievement and dismal chances of success. Public school advocates claim the vouchers will further deplete resources and increase segregation in the community, and are aghast that the state’s wealthiest families will be eligible for the private school subsidy.
ESA supporters believe vouchers can help by fuelling competition and easing public school overcrowding.
Both sides agree that if the program survives its present legal challenge, the “sweeping” effort will have implications throughout the US.
“It’s never been done on this scale before,” said Michael Schaus, of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. He noted that other states have limited access to school vouchers solely to low-income families or specific school districts. “ESAs in Nevada divided over landmark school voucher program as it heads to top court | US news | The Guardian: