Week in Review: Shared priority

Andy Matthews

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

I was overjoyed this week to read that Gov. Brian Sandoval has dedicated his second term to helping Nevada’s children succeed. It just so happens that providing solutions to make that happen is NPRI’s top priority for 2015, too.

And, with Republicans in full control of Carson City for the first time in 85 years, the opportunity to bring school choice to Nevada has never been greater. In case you missed last week’s column amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays, Geoff Lawrence, who had served as NPRI’s director of research and legislative affairs, has left the Institute to counsel the Nevada Republican Assembly caucus as its new policy director. While Geoff’s departure from NPRI is certainly a loss, the majority party, if it wants to bring school choice to Nevada, couldn’t have a better individual directing its policy efforts.

I trust that Gov. Sandoval has already read Geoff’s last two NPRI publications — 33 ways to improve Nevada education without spending more and Solutions 2015 — in which he details what it means to truly make Nevada children our top priority. It means taking steps to improve educational opportunities, and equipping students with the tools they need to create a brighter future for themselves. Contrary to what liberals repeatedly claim, it doesn’t mean throwing more money at an education system that is plagued not by insufficient funding, but by inefficiency. It means enacting genuine reforms to that system.

I’ve disagreed with Gov. Sandoval on multiple issues, but I know he’s sincere in his desire to improve educational quality in our state. The policy ideas contained in those recent NPRI publications — such as Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), charter school reforms and alternative routes to teacher licensure — would be a great place for him to start.

Education Savings Accounts were first implemented in Arizona to bring hope to students by giving families more choices in education. Through the program, the state puts money it would already spend on a student’s education into an account designated for that student, to be used for educational purposes. Parents can spend the money on private-school tuition, homeschooling or tutoring, among other options, to ensure their child gets the education that fits best. 

Improving existing charter schools and removing roadblocks to opening others is another proven way that Gov. Sandoval can make kids his top priority in the coming year. Because they operate outside district-level policies, charter schools are free to innovate and find better ways to educate. Traditionally, they have existed to serve more at-risk students, and the evidence shows that students who win lotteries to participate in charters do significantly better than those who do not. Charter school reforms that policymakers should pursue include implementing a parent trigger law and establishing an incubator system for charter school startups.

And reforming the teacher-certification process would remove a chief obstacle that currently keeps many qualified educators out of the classroom. The research has shown that traditional licensure has no impact on student achievement, whereas allowing for alternative paths to licensure has indeed produced educational gains. The reason should be obvious: Under the current system, many highly skilled professionals dismiss the idea of pursuing teaching as a profession because they find the process of getting credentialed far too onerous.

For too long, the interests of Nevada’s children have been put on the back burner, as state policymakers have allowed the teacher unions and other special interests to dominate the education agenda. Whether you consider yourself a Republican or a Democrat, a conservative or a liberal, or something else, it’s time for us all to acknowledge that the status quo has failed our kids.

The voters spoke loudly and clearly in November. They’re tired of business as usual. They want real change and proven solutions. And there’s no better proof of that than their overwhelming rejection of the margin-tax initiative, the goal of which was to address Nevada’s education problems by simply throwing more money at them. Nevadans want, and deserve, better.

In the coming weeks, NPRI Executive Vice President Victor Joecks will relocate to Carson City so that he can share with incoming and returning policymakers the real solutions to Nevada’s educational challenges. And you can be sure he’ll be reaching out to Gov. Sandoval to thank him personally for his commitment to putting children first, and to share with him some of our ideas on how to make that happen.

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

Remember, if you'd like to receive the latest from NPRI, sign-up for our emails here.