ESAs aren’t about politics, they’re about the students

Michael Schaus

If Nevada is serious about improving education throughout the state, it needs to begin focusing on children — not taxpayer-funded bureaucracies.

By using students and teachers as little more than political props, the established public school system routinely pressures voters, taxpayers and politicians for an ever-increasing amount of funding.

Governor Brian Sandoval used Nevada’s poor educational track record as partial justification for the largest tax increase in state history — and he’s not alone in his efforts to fundraise off of the state’s abysmal school system.

Nevada politicians have done this for decades, and it’s never lifted public K-12 education out of its ditch.

Now, Washoe County is currently mulling a tax increase to fund higher levels of spending.

Clark County School District officials have even started blaming limits on property-tax increases for the district’s alleged financial woes — despite the fact that the district’s budget continues to grow.

In almost every instance, defenders of the state’s educational status quo explain to citizens that our hard-earned tax dollars will go toward “helping the children.”

It seems a compelling argument, given the fact that Nevada routinely ranks among the worst public education systems in the nation. With almost 40 percent of fourth-grade students functionally illiterate, massive teacher shortages and crumbling infrastructure, it’s easy to see why the public is so eager to “help the children.”

So what level of progress has Nevada seen after decades of tax hikes and spending binges?

The sad truth is, not much — if any.

Despite almost non-existent 1 percent enrollment growth, CCSD continues to struggle with hundreds of teacher vacancies. Several decades of average per-pupil spending increases have failed to make even a small dent in statewide student achievement rankings. And billions of dollars in capital improvement projects every year seem wasted, as districts fail to maintain school buildings that are roughly 25 years younger than the national average.   

Yet, despite this clear financial mismanagement, public officials continue to clamor for more taxes, increased spending and larger bureaucracies.

Judging by the results, however, this regularly recycled “solution” to the Silver State’s educational woes is clearly not having an impact on the single most important aspect of reform: student performance.

Instead, the billions of dollars spent by local and state agencies have gone toward a bloated behemoth of special interests and a government monopoly with little incentive to prioritize efficiency or student achievement.

The current practice of shoveling money at a cumbersome and wasteful government bureaucracy is clearly doing nothing to improve opportunity for Nevada’s children. It’s well-beyond time for reform that substantively puts the needs of children over the wants of the system.

The idea of empowering families to take control of their children’s future shouldn’t be revolutionary — unfortunately, in today’s world it is often considered such.

Thanks to Education Savings Accounts, however, Nevada is on the cusp of leading this educational revolution.  

Unlike obscure tax increases designed to fund centrally planned public school agencies, ESAs directly “help the children”— not teacher unions, administrative bureaucracies or politicians.  

In fact, that is the single most-productive aspect of Education Savings Accounts: They take the politics out of education, replacing it with the interests of parents, students and educators.

Rather than empowering the political groups that have long exploited the system, ESAs empower individual families — giving them the ability to tailor their children’s education in a way that optimizes their ability to succeed.

ESAs put the accountability back with the people who are most invested in student success: parents, educators and families. At last we’ve a system that actively promotes the single most important element of any education reform — student performance.

If we are really concerned about “helping the children,” let’s stop rewarding a political system that has a proven track record of failing our younger generations.

Let’s cut bureaucrats, special interests and political influences out of the equation, and put education back in the hands of parents.

Michael Schaus is communications director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. For more visit This article first appeared in Nevada Business.