Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Nevada School Vouchers - My Thoughts

A lot of fuss has been made about the implementation of school voucher programs as a potential solution to woes of poor high school education. Namely, Nevada (ranked 47 out of 50 nationally) has entertained this approach during the 2015 Legislative session. Senate Bill 302 was passed by the Nevada state Legislature and signed into law by Governor Brian Sandoval this year (Huffington Post, 2014). It “authorizes $10.5 million in tax credits over the upcoming two-year budget cycle” for the use of up to $5,000 in state scholarships for parents to use to send their students to private school. You can read more about the bill here and here.

This free-choice approach, however, has been met with much opposition. Many local democratic representatives have opposed this law on the grounds of diminished uses of funds available for public schools. Some even offered arguments that such a program would only “subsidy” wealthy families in allowing them to send their children to private schools and further disparage the educational gap between low-income and high income (Las Vegas Sun, 2015). However, the most notable challenge is that of the law’s constitutionality. The American Civil Liberties Union recently filed a law suit against this law stating that the bill violates the Nevada Constitution - “No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.” Critics believe that allowing such a law would be an unconstitutional use of public funds to send student to private Christian schools. Nevada Senator Scott Hammond (my state senate representative), who sponsored this bill, stated that funds for private school are for educational purposes stating that the law is analogous to Medicare funds being used to treat a patient at a Catholic/religious hospital. Read more here and here.

I am a supporter of school vouchers and I’m happy to see my state take an innovative approach to address the waning educational state of our schools. I grew up in a black, middle class family of six. While my parents made sacrifices to send me and my three younger siblings to private school, I am confident that with help from the state, it would have made my educational experience and overall quality of life much more fulfilling. Maybe my parents would not have had to work multiple jobs in order to meet tuition. Perhaps we could have had more disposable income to utilize. Often, I ponder how school vouchers could have made life different for friends and family whom I witnessed reap the bad fruits of the public schools system. I graduated Valedictorian from the PA Owens Christian Academy (school info here) in 2011 after spending my K-12 years in private Christian schools. As a college grad and prospective law school student, I look back at the impact a private Christian school education had on my life and hope that other minority and low-income students can have that same opportunity. Free-choice programs, like the Nevada school voucher law, can open a door for students to have access to a quality education that exceeds what Nevada public schools have to offer and is worth investing into. I’ll leave my thoughts off with this link to Brooking Institute Scholar, Matthews M. Chingos and his study of New York voucher program and the benefits it yields for minority student collegiate success. I hope Nevada’s voucher program can yield and exceed their success. (See here.)

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