ESAs will be a blessing to students and to public schools

Opponents of school choice were overjoyed Monday when District Judge James Wilson issued an injunction against the nation’s most inclusive school choice program, Nevada’s Education Savings Accounts.

“We are thrilled with the ruling,” said Tammy Godley, an attorney who argued on behalf of parents challenging the program.

“We think it is so important to the children of Nevada that we maintain our public schools and fund them appropriately,” she told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The reality, however, is that ESAs actually do fund public schools — and significantly. Indeed, public schools are poised to importantly benefit, financially, from Nevada’s broader implementation of school choice.

What choice opponents don’t tell you is that, when a student enrolls for an ESA, only part of the per-student funding departs the school district along with that child.

Thousands of dollars for each child taking advantage of ESAs continue to flow into the school district, raising the per-pupil funding for students still in the system!

Nevada’s ESA program works like this: Most parents can qualify for up to 90 percent of the state government’s “guaranteed per-student funding share,” while low-income applicants can qualify for up to 100 percent. This money is then put into a restricted-use savings account for the family to spend on education-related expenses.

That “guaranteed per-student funding share,” however, is only a portion — between 60 and 70 percent — of the overall revenues school districts receive from local, state and federal sources on a per-student basis. When a student enrolls in an ESA and leaves the public school system, the remaining 30-40 percent of the local and federal funds allocated to educate that child remain with the student’s previous government school.

In short, Nevada’s government schools will continue to receive thousands of dollars for each child that takes advantage of Nevada’s school choice opportunity, without the expense of having to educate that same child.

This means public schools will have more money for capital projects, bond repayments and even teacher pay. Contrary to the falsehoods being spread that ESAs will bankrupt public schools, the schools’ overall per-student funding will actually increase with the implementation of ESAs — to the benefit of the students who remain enrolled in those government schools.

Across Nevada’s public-education establishment, the results should be impressive. For decades the Clark County School District, with some 70 percent of Nevada’s public-school pupils, teachers and administrators, has struggled with overcrowding and huge teacher shortages.

Given that reality and the public education bureaucracy’s perpetual clamor for increased funds, the latter should see school choice as a major step toward tackling some of the current education model’s chronic and systemic failings.

That it is not shows, once again, that the militant opposition to education reform is rarely rooted in what is “best for the children.”

Throwing money at a bureaucratic, politically charged, ineffective public school system is not at all “investing” in our children’s education. One-sized factory-model schooling does not fit most children, and parents understand this. They also understand that ESAs allow them to tailor their children’s educational experiences to their children’s actual needs.

The fact that Nevada’s new program will do that while actually increasing the amount of resources public schools can allocate per-student should earn applause from the defenders of government-run education — not disingenuous legal assaults.

For some opponents, however, it’s not about the children, the welfare of dedicated teachers nor intelligent use of education tax dollars.

Instead, it’s about preserving an ineffective government monopoly controlling public education, regardless of the cost.

Nevada’s students — and Nevada’s public schools — deserve better.

Michael Schaus is communications director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. For more visit