ENN OpEd – How ESAs Harm Public Education

By Sylvia Lazos
ENN, Policy Director

Imagine that public education is a large ship, in which close to 460,000 children labor every day to learn the basic skills of life, on a path to becoming productive adults, civically engaged and ready to lead in our modern society. Imagine in 2008, the ship slams into a huge reef, known as the Great Recession, and that the ship is greatly damaged. Imagine that it takes seven years before the adults make the brave and bold decision to tax themselves and refit the ship, and put enough fuel in the tank, so that it can continue its path ready for the challenges to come. But as the planks are hammered into the recovering vessel, some individuals decide to tear off planks for themselves – to build their own boats, without blueprints or a shipwright’s experience. Even worse, imagine wealthy parents who already have their own boats, stopping to siphon fuel from the large vessel of public education so they can ease the personal trip on their private boat.

That’s what ESAs are doing to public education.

Nevada’s founders in 1864 who framed the Nevada Constitution understood that the greatest responsibility of the state was to build a system of “common schools,” that would be open to the common people, miners, ranchers, and saloon workers. At the time, only the wealthiest could afford to educate their children with private tutors and private religious schools.

Public education is important, Nevada’s framers believed, because education lifts all of the people. By building and ensuring that the great ship of education can propel its way though the roughest of waters, Nevada would help create a citizenry that would sustain a strong economy, and a strong civic and social ethic. All Nevadans prosper when the ship of education does well.

ESAs, the new voucher program undermines public education, by purporting to allow individuals to divert the funds desperately needed to private ventures, which may or may not be good places to educate children. Private schools do not have to be accountable for results, do not have to disclose their educational practices, are not bound to best practices for curriculum and educating, and are free to discriminate and deny services in ways public education legally cannot. Nevada’s founders wanted a ship that would be strong and withstand many storms. They envisioned a ship in which all citizens would pull together for the common good of all Nevadans.

We must urge stakeholders and politicians to stop dismantling our future.