Husband and wife team hope to fix education for at-risk youth, and ESAs are the key
The Andersons — DaJuane and Tamara — have a dream.
Pursuing it, they both achieved doctorates in education.
And to it they’ve dedicated their teaching careers.
The dream is to significantly improve the lives of at-risk youth — here in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
And the means to accomplish something so important exists, they believe, within the unique private school they launched: The Anderson Academy of Mathematics and Science.
For nearly a decade the Andersons have been struggling to build a school dedicated to low-income students. Of course, it has been an uphill battle.
And now, with the injunction granted by District Judge James Wilson against Nevada’s innovative Education Savings Accounts, that hill has gotten significantly steeper.
“We feel like we’re back to where we were in the beginning,” Dr. DaJuane Anderson recently told the Nevada Policy Research Institute.
Anderson Academy of Mathematics and Science was established, he says, with the “sole purpose” of helping at-risk students succeed with their education.
And since proficiency in math and science easily opens the door to successful careers, how better to help our kids get a great leg up?
After beginning their careers as educators in Detroit, the Andersons chose Las Vegas as the place where they believed they could build better educations for disadvantaged kids.
Of course, finding low-income parents who believe they can afford tuition for their child’s education is an obvious challenge.
But while financial worries were always present — the Anderson Academy of Mathematics and Science survives through private donations and minimal tuition rates — the couple soon realized there was another problem.
Because low-income communities are so frequently dominated by failing public-school monopolies, parents often see alternative forms of education as an even bigger risk.
“So many parents in this community have a one-track mind when it comes to private schools,” said DaJuane. “They think all private schools are expensive, far away or not designed for struggling minority students.”
“We want to tear down that perception,” he adds.
Charging tuition of only $500 per month, and focusing specifically on helping low-income students escape underperforming schools, the husband-and-wife team have made some progress in the community.
But for many struggling minority families, even those few hundred dollars per month exceed their already stretched budgets.
That’s why Education Savings Accounts were about to make such a big difference — opening up the Andersons’ dream to thousands of low-income students currently stuck in less-than-stellar CCSD schools.
“When we first heard about ESAs, it was like our troubles were going to be wiped away overnight,” DaJuane said. “We had parents, when they learned that they would qualify for ESAs, suddenly jump at the chance to give their kids a better education.”
A floodgate of opportunity was about to open for students in low income communities.
“Private schools from all over the country started to look at moving to Nevada, offering these families even more choices,” said Anderson. “It was going to transform the culture of education in these areas.”
Parents would be empowered, rather than public-school bureaucracies, and low-income families could exit the failed, one-size-fits-all public school system.
“Parents and students had an opportunity with ESAs to seek out a more individualized academic program than is currently being offered,” Anderson explained.
“But now, we’re back to the beginning. There are so many families who are about to lose out because the future of school choice is in trouble — and everyone is worried about it.”
Now that ESAs are in legal limbo, opportunities appear to once again be drying up. The nation’s most inclusive school-choice program promised to introduce entire neighborhoods to a whole new world of opportunity. It seemed that new schools, a new way of looking at education and a new approach to improving the lives of at-risk children were about to become reality.
“Now we just have to wait and see what happens,” Anderson said.
Regardless of what happens with ESAs, the Anderson Academy of Mathematics and Science will continue to offer an education alternative for low-income students, Anderson says.
But whether or not parents will have the resources to take advantage of that opportunity, is an entirely different matter.
The survival of Nevada’s ESA program will bring the dawn of an entirely new era in education to Nevada. Parents, regardless of income bracket, will be able to provide their children with the kind of education that truly suits them — and with the kind of educators who love to teach.
To educators like the Andersons, that represents a lifelong dream.
Michael Schaus is communications director of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. For more visit http://npri.org.