An educated workforce begins with empowered parents

Chantal Lovell

One of the most dangerous phrases in the English language is, “Because we’ve always done it this way.”

It’s a phrase that could cost a company millions of dollars in missed opportunities. But what if were someone saying it about your child:

“She’s not doing well in school, but nothing will change, because we’ve always done it this way.”

That was the situation facing the mom of junior high student Mikayla Siroky. Her mother Patricia writes in a letter that Mikayla “has struggled both academically and behaviorally since about the fourth grade.

“Before the start of her sixth grade year, I checked out [a particular private school] because I knew she (we) needed a different atmosphere. However, although I was very interested, the cost of tuition prevented me from even considering sending her there, since my husband has been unemployed for two and a half years. So, I resigned and braced myself for her first year in middle school…

“For her last term in sixth grade she was barely getting by academically.”

So what should’ve been done?

Should her parents and everyone else just have accepted that Mikalya wasn’t getting by, academically? That she was clearly on the road to ending up a high school dropout and entering the labor force as an unskilled worker?

Fortunately for Patricia and Mikalya, they live in Indiana, not Nevada. In between Mikalya’s 6th and 7th grade year, Indiana enacted a program of choice scholarships that allowed Patricia to send Mikalya to a private school — using a portion of the money the government would have spent on Mikalya’s public school education.

As Patricia describes it, this change made a world of difference.

“The Choice Scholarship Program has affected my daughter, Mikayla, positively in every aspect of her life. …

“On her October mid-term grades report from (her private school), she received an A+, two As, one B+ and four Bs! When Mikayla brought home her grades, I could not stop looking at them. We even invited my sister over for the unveiling of her report card.

“Not only has the voucher program affected her grades, but her whole attitude. Last year, Mikayla dreaded going to school. Now, she can’t wait to go to school…

“Last year, Mikayla was bullied and didn’t want to be involved in any extracurricular school activities. This year, she jumped right in and played on the soccer team and is in the hand-bell choir.”

What the State of Indiana has recognized is that the traditional model of public education all-too-frequently isn’t working. And so, policymakers there took steps to deal with that critical problem. They did so by empowering parents — with additional education options.

Mikayla’s story is one of many that show the benefits of getting out of the “that’s how we’ve always done it” rut.

Unfortunately, here in Nevada, supporters of the proposed business margin tax that will be on this November’s ballot are campaigning hard for more of the same — pouring ever more money into Nevada’s broken and too-often-corrupt education system. They ignore the fact that Nevada has nearly tripled inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending in the last 50 years while results have stagnated or declined.

There’s no denying that Nevada’s failing education system has hurt all involved — from individuals leaving high school without a basic education, to employers struggling to find skilled workers, to everyone in the state’s overall economy. After all, the state’s lack of bright, literate and confident young workers is a known factor limiting Nevada’s economic recovery.

That’s why the Nevada Policy Research Institute recently published a study named “33 ways to improve Nevada education without spending more.” It demonstrates that a mere reallocation of education dollars would dramatically increase student performance in Nevada.

Today everyone’s public-education money is being spent on costly programs — like class-size reduction and universal preschool— that have been amply shown to yield little or no return on investment.

School choice, however, has been proven to work and produces better results at a fraction of the public school costs. Innovations on the choice front — including tax-credit scholarships, opportunity scholarships and Education Savings Accounts — let parents of all income levels choose the type of education they believe best for their children.

Nevada education is broken, and Nevada’s children and economy are still being hurt by that fact.

It’s time to stop doing what we’ve always done and fix it.

This article first appeared in Nevada Business.

Chantal Lovell is the deputy communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more, visit