Celebrating School Choice Week in Nevada

Karen Gray

It’s School Choice Week, and across the country advocates of parental choice are shining the spotlight on options that yield effective and accountable education.

In Nevada, where school choice is often shackled by partisan politics, political jockeying and legislative kick-the-can, parents, leaders and school-choice advocates are celebrating the state’s recent strides toward more parental control over their children’s education.

Recently, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, a Democrat, appointed two staunch school-choice advocates to the Silver State’s newly established State Public Charter School Authority.

Transcending ideological and political differences, Nevada’s 2011 Legislature created the Charter School Authority to both authorize and oversee high-quality charter schools throughout the state. The Authority is also intended to foster a climate in which all Nevada’s charter schools, regardless of sponsor, can flourish.

Elissa Wahl, appointed to the Authority by Gov. Sandoval, is a home-schooling mom. In 2007, she was instrumental in getting the Nevada Legislature to pass less-restrictive homeschooling laws that allow homeschooling plans to be custom-fit to the needs of their individual child.

Melissa Mackedon, appointed by Speaker Oceguera, is a Fallon mom and school-choice advocate. Feeling what she described as a “sense of desperation” regarding the future education of her own young children, Mackedon, along with her sister, co-founded Oasis Academy, a new Nevada charter school.

“The Charter School Authority,” said Wahl in a recent press release, “was established to ensure that regulations pertaining to charter schools will make Nevada a favorable place for new charters to open.

“Nevada, its parents and its children will all benefit from greater choices in education, and I look forward to working on the Charter School Authority to help provide such choices.”

Wahl is also the co-founder and CEO of RISE Resource Center, Las Vegas’ first and only educational facility dedicated to school choice.

Mackedon and the Oasis school were in the news last April, when more than 50 families camped out at the Churchill County Fairgrounds just to register for the new school.

“I believe people are desperate for choice in education,” Mackedon wrote in an e-mail to NPRI over the weekend, “especially in the rural communities of Nevada.”

“For most parents,” she continued, “their children’s education is their top priority, and in so many instances, their hands are tied!”

Last week, at the campus of Oasis Academy, Gov. Sandoval joined 12 other states in proclaiming Jan. 23-29, 2012, as School Choice Week.

“Research in Nevada and across our nation demonstrates conclusively that providing children with multiple schooling options improves academic performance,” wrote Sandoval.

“All children in Nevada should have the right to the highest-quality schools possible.”

In Southern Nevada, school-choice advocates, business leaders, parents and members of the community will gather at RISE Resource Center on Thursday, Jan. 26 to celebrate School Choice Week.

Visitors will mingle, tour the facility and hear guest speakers Wayne Allen Root and Brian Calle. “Homeschool to Harvard” will be the topic of Root, a former Libertarian Party presidential candidate. Calle, a columnist for the Orange County Register newspaper and a representative of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, will speak on “Differences Between Charter Schools from State to State & What Nevada Needs to do to Catch Up.”

The RISE Resource Center is on the property of Advent United Methodist Church, located at 3460 N. Rancho Drive. The event, to which the public is invited, will run from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

The superintendent of the Clark County School District, Dwight Jones, was unavailable to comment on School Choice Week in time for this article. However, a CCSD spokesperson responded that “The Superintendent is supportive not only of parent choice but the atmosphere of positive competition among schools open enrollment encourages.”

CCSD recently closed its open-enrollment registration — a limited public-school choice option — for the 2012-13 school year. Parents this year showed increased interest over last year, with 1,318 applications compared to 1,200 last year.  

Last year, three CCSD schools with open seats received more applications than their seat capacity. For the coming year, the district has not yet completed school assignments, but says parents will be notified by Feb. 7.

Amanda Fulkerson, CCSD’s chief communications officer, noted that the district’s new school performance framework, which will make data on each school’s performance and growth publicly available, should have a significant impact on parent choices as parents will be able to see which schools perform best.

“This again is a healthy competition and an honest account of test scores and growth to be used as a tool for parent choice,” she said.

“Choice,” observed Oasis Academy co-founder Mackedon, “is important in nearly every scenario, and education is certainly no different.”

Karen Gray is an education researcher with Nevada Journal. For more visit http://nevadajournal.com and http://npri.org.