The freedom to choose is a cornerstone of democratic society. With it comes the opportunity to seek that which best serves our needs. Without choice, we can find life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness imperiled.
So why does Nevada – renowned for its freedom regarding gambling, marijuana and state income tax – refuse to embrace choice in something so critically important to the future of our state as education?
Nationwide, large majorities of current school parents support open enrollment policies – either within a school district or across school districts – and more than half of U.S. parents have either recently considered or are considering new schools for their children.
Yet academic choice remains elusive in the Silver State, despite decidedly sub-optimal education outcomes. Studies show that test scores in Nevada have lagged behind the national averages for years, even as the national averages themselves have fallen. Nevada parents have extremely limited options should they want to pull their children from failing schools or wish to seek out an environment better suited to their children’s learning needs.
This coming week (January 23-29) is National School Choice Week, which seeks to promote the concept of all forms of school choice: district schools, district magnet schools, charter schools, private schools and home schooling.
School choice not only gives parents options, but it fosters accountability. It gives education leaders a strong incentive to meet the needs of students given that dissatisfied parents can move their children, and education dollars, elsewhere. Without school choice students are locked into a public school according to where they live. Those with means have a measure of choice because they can either afford to move to an area with better schools or enroll their children in private schools.
Parents without such means are generally relegated to sending their children to the schools assigned to them by the district, regardless of quality or educational relevance for their children.
“Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another. But if we face a monopolist we are at his absolute mercy,” Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek wrote many years ago.
As Nevada Policy has pointed out previously, educational choice is a policy that both changes lives of students and makes fiscal sense for taxpayers. And yet, the crony education establishment, buoyed by teachers unions and school administrators hellbent on retaining the status quo, continues to handicap Nevada students.
Across the nation, parents are seeking out alternatives. Over the past year, nearly 52 percent of U.S. parents have either considered or are considering new schools for their children. Notably, 62 percent of Black parents and 59 percent of Hispanic or Latino parents indicated that they considered or are considering new schools, according to a survey by nonprofit National School Choice Week (NSCW).
A 2021 survey by the American Federation for Children showed that nearly two of every three voters supported school choice. Support is even higher among African American and Latinos, at 74 percent and 71 percent, respectively.
National School Choice Week’s survey of more than 2,700 parents of school-aged children was conducted earlier this month and indicated strong parent interest in school choice.
Reasons for considering education alternatives include parents frustrated by COVID-related disruptions to their children’s schooling, a search for high-quality education environments and school safety, the nonprofit reported.
Parents indicated a willingness to consider a variety of different types of schools for their children:
- 38 percent indicated they considered or will consider a traditional public school within their school district;
- 35 percent considered a private or faith-based school;
- 32 percent considered a traditional public school in a different school district;
- 31 percent considered a public charter school;
- 26 percent considered a full-time online school;
- 25 percent considered fulltime homeschooling; and
- 20 percent considered a public magnet school.
It is hardly surprising that education choice and accountability produce superior results than the monolithic and monopolistic traditional government-driven school system. Unfortunately, many public officials and education leaders in the state believe the only way to improve outcomes is to throw more money at public schools, rather than giving Nevada parents the freedom to choose what’s best for their children.
Each and every Nevada parent should be able to access the best education options for their children, regardless of their address or income. Students shouldn’t be held back by public officials with a personal stake in staying the course, no matter how poor the outcome.
Kevin Dietrich is communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute. Visit Nevada Policy at www.npri.org.