Democratic Party trying to mislead on school choice in Senate race

Victor Joecks

While political fliers are rarely filled with reasoned or nuanced policy analysis, recent fliers paid for by the Democratic Party of Nevada contain so many inaccurate statements about school choice that a fact check is needed.

The fliers, which are not authorized by her opponent Sen. Justin Jones, attack Senate District 9 candidate Becky Harris for her stated support of school choice and contain many falsehoods, including the following:

Inaccurate assertion #1: “Nevada will continue to cut public school funding…”

Fact: State education spending through the Distributive School Account (DSA), which is what state Senators vote on, is at its highest levels ever. Schools also receive thousands per student in additional local tax dollars for current expenditures, capital improvements and debt repayments.

The per-pupil appropriation for Fiscal Year 2004 was $4,298. In Fiscal Year 2013, per-pupil spending through the DSA was $5,374. By Fiscal Year 2015, per-pupil spending will have grown to $5,676.

Even during the economic downturn, Nevada’s education spending continued to climb upward with year-over-year increases in 11 of the past 12 years. The only decrease was from FY 2009 to FY 2010, when spending dropped by $26 a pupil. During Gov. Brian Sandoval’s tenure, DSA spending has grown from $5,192 to $5,676.

It’s not just DSA funding that has increased significantly. State spending on special education and class-size reduction has grown from $260.5 million in FY 2012 to $295 million in FY 2015.

Inaccurate assertion #2: “Becky Harris would drain tax dollars from our schools [by supporting vouchers]…”

Fact: A properly structured program of school choice, be it vouchers, opportunity scholarships or education savings accounts, actually saves money for state and local governments.

The most important measure for education spending is per-pupil spending. Is spending $300 million on education a lot or a little? It depends on the number of students the $300 million is expected to cover.

For instance, the Clark County School District spends over $8,500 per pupil in current expenditures, excluding capital and debt costs, according to research from NPRI and the Nevada Appeal.

So if a school-choice program empowered parents with $7,000 to send their children to the school of their choice, that’d be a savings of over $1,500 a student. There’s no better way to solve the constant complaints about overcrowding than to let some students leave to find a school that’s better for them and save taxpayers over $1,500 a student.

To have school choice produce a cost savings, the program needs to exclude students who are not currently attending public schools from eligibility for the first few years of the program.

Inaccurate assertion #3: Vouchers would “erase our student’s (sic) future”

Fact: What’s erasing the future of Nevada students is the failing status quo in Nevada education that everyone agrees needs to improve.

School choice on the other hand produces gains both for students who participate in the program and for students who remain in public schools.

The Friedman Foundation’s Greg Forster, Ph.D. describes the research:

Twelve empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the “gold standard” of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes — six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.

“Twenty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s impact on academic outcomes in public schools. Of these, 22 find that choice improves public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found that choice harms public schools.

Want to help public school students? Implement school choice.

Inaccurate Assertion #4: Vouchers and school choice are unpopular with voters…

Fact: This assertion is the implication of all the hit pieces, but it simply isn’t true. So here's where the Democratic Party makes, in terms of electoral impact, its biggest mistake of all.

Vouchers are extremely popular with the public and especially popular with parents. Describing a recent Education Next poll, Harvard scholar Paul Peterson writes that “No less than 56 percent (of parents) favor a school voucher that would ‘give families with children in public schools a wider choice, by allowing them to enroll their children in private schools, instead, with government helping to pay the tuition.’ Only 32 percent opposed the idea.” A Nevada-specific poll has found similar results.

School choice would improve student achievement for participating students and public school students, it would save school districts money and reduce class sizes, and it enjoys widespread popular support.

Did the state Democratic Party forget that attack ads are suppose to tear down, instead of build up, an opponent?

Victor Joecks is executive vice president at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan free-market think tank. For more visit