Parents get shutout in Republican sellout

When Gov. Brian Sandoval declared there would be no special session to wrap up unfinished legislative business, I knew he had thrown in the towel and education savings accounts were toast.

There were ways the ESAs could’ve been saved, as one newspaper columnist pointed out Sunday. Sandoval could’ve used his veto and Republican state senators could’ve held their ground. But no. They folded, surrendered, slunk away with their tails between their legs.

The 8,000 to 10,000 students hoping their parents could keep some of their tax dollars so they could afford to send their children to private schools were left high and dry.

But everyone saw it coming from far off. When Sandoval included a mere $60 million for ESAs in his budget — less than half the money needed to cover those already singed up — you knew his heart wasn’t really in it.

In fact, back in October when Sandoval called a special session to give away tax money for a football stadium in Las Vegas and failed to include ESAs, the handwriting was on the wall.

I predicted at the time that, if a majority of Democrats were elected to either the Senate or Assembly in November, ESAs are dead, because not a single Democrat voted for ESAs in 2015.

After the governor’s state of the state speech I reported that it was billions for billionaires and pittance for parents. I was wrong. Parents didn’t even get pittance.

Elon Musk got his billions. The billionaire owners of the Oakland Raiders got their $750 million for a stadium plus $900 million for road improvements.


Editorial: Billions for billionaires, pittance for parents

We now know the pecking order in Nevada.

In his State of the State speech this past week Gov. Brian Sandoval boasted that the Tesla gigafactory near Sparks, in addition to making batteries for electric cars, would also be making electric motors and gearboxes, adding 550 workers.

Left unsaid was who would pay for the police and fire, schools and other government services those workers would need, since Tesla was given $1.3 billion in tax breaks and credits, as well as promises of millions more to improve roads, by lawmakers in a special session in 2014.

Tesla is owned by billionaire Elon Musk.

Nevada takes care of billionaires.

Nevada lawmakers in a special session in 2015 agreed to dole out $215 million in tax abatements and credits plus millions in road improvements to entice Faraday Future to build an electric car factory at Apex in North Las Vegas. The company is owned by a Chinese billionaire.

As if on schedule, legislators in 2016 agreed to pony up $750 million in tax money to help build a domed football stadium for the billionaire owner of the Oakland Raiders, Mark Davis, and Sheldon Adelson, billionaire owner of the Sands casino corporation and the Las Vegas daily newspaper. The stadium would also require the state to spend $900 million for road improvements.

Mark Davis and Sheldon Adelson.

Mark Davis and Sheldon Adelson.

Almost as an afterthought, Sandoval tossed out a $60 million sop to the parents who have applied for education savings accounts (ESAs) approved in 2015 by lawmakers. The ESAs were blocked when the state Supreme Court said ESAs are constitutional but the funding mechanism devised by the lawmakers was not.

Under the law, parents who opt out of sending their children to public schools would be given an education savings account that would equal a portion of the statewide average the state spends per public school pupil, currently that is about $5,700. Low-income parents and parents with special needs children would get 100 percent of that amount, while all others would get 90 percent, or about $5,100 currently.

That money could be spent on private schooling, tutoring, transportation, distance education and/or homeschooling.

“We’ve heard from the thousands of Nevada families about how crucial it is that we give them freedom of choice in the education of their children,” Sandoval said in his speech. “I look forward to building a bi-partisan solution to get this done. It is time to give Nevada families more choice.”

Well, a few Nevada families perhaps.

It turns out the $60 million — $25 million in the first fiscal year and $35 million in the second — would fund about half the 8,000 to 9,000 ESAs already applied for so far in the first year and about two-thirds of them in the second year.

To add insult to injury, a spokesman for the governor said Sandoval is open to limiting who is eligible for ESAs by imposing means testing — the more a family earns, the less the family could get back from its own taxes.

When Sandoval announced his funding proposal for ESAs, Republicans applauded and Democrats sat on their hands, prompting the governor to quip with a chuckle, “I knew it would be a split house on that one.”

In 2015 not a single Democrat voted in favor of authorizing ESAs. Now the Democrats have majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, making that bi-partisan solution look like a pipe dream.

The governor had his chance to fund ESAs in that special session, while Republicans still held majorities in both chambers, in which lawmakers approved $750 million for that football stadium in Las Vegas, but he failed to put that on the agenda. Just not as important as the billionaires.

Nevada doles out billions for billionaires, but pittance for parents.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Education savings accounts by any other name …

The headline on the story in today’s newspaper about the attorney general asking the state Supreme Court to expedite the appeal of the injunction blocking the start for legislatively approved education savings accounts (ESAs) calls them vouchers. So does the refer hed on the cover of the B section.

But nowhere in the story is the word voucher ever used.

In fact, backers of the ESAs have insisted they are not vouchers.

In fact, the newspaper’s interim editor — in a column in August when he was the senior editorial writer — has said ESAs are not vouchers.

“ESAs are not vouchers,” Glenn Cook wrote. “ESAs are controlled by parents, not the state. Once state money is transferred into the accounts, it’s no longer the public’s money, and as such it’s perfectly constitutional for parents to choose to spend the money at a religious school.”

The term voucher is the word that the opponents of ESAs insist on using.

Memo to editors: ESAs are not vouchers. Got it?


Editorial: How are public school parents harmed when others exit public schools? (Updated)

District Judge James Wilson in Carson City earlier this month issued an injunction blocking the implementation of the legislatively approved education savings accounts (ESAs), which were to be launched next month.

In doing so, the judge said the plaintiffs “have carried their burden of proof that SB302 violates Article 11, Sections 6.1 and 6.2 (of the state Constitution) and that irreparable harm will result if an injunction is not entered.”

Those sections state the Legislature shall fund public schools “for the population reasonably estimated …”

The judge ruled that the word “appropriate” means “to set apart for or assign to a particular purpose or use in exclusion of all others” and therefore using part of that appropriate for ESAs violates the state Constitution.

The chink in that argument is that the State Distributive School Account (DSA) is funded on a per pupil basis and if that pupil is no longer in a public school population is that funding still required to go to public schools?

The Legislature set statewide per pupil funding at just more than $5,710 per pupil in the DSA. The ESA bill dictated that most parents who pull their children from public school would be given 90 percent of that amount to fund education by whatever means they choose — private school, tutoring, homeschooling.

Per pupil funding for public schools is not diminished by the savings accounts.

But apparently the judge took the view that the DSA fund is a lump sum that may not be diminished.

And just how are parents of public school children harmed if their schools get 10 percent of the funding for pupils who are not enrolled in their public school district? Additionally, public school districts keep the local and federal funding. Seems more like a benefit than an irreparable harm.

Actually, for some counties there might be a huge windfall, depending on interpretation of the law, because the DSA differs for every county. For example, Esmeralda is guaranteed $24,331 per pupil; Lincoln, $10,534; White Pine, $7,799; Eureka, $9,633; Mineral, $8,980; Clark $5,512; but Lander gets only $4,374 — with some adjustments for local property tax collections. Since the ESA payout is based on 90 percent the statewide average per pupil of $5,710, does each county keep the difference?

State Treasurer Dan Schwartz, whose office is designated to handle ESAs and who is named as the defendant in the case, says more than 4,100 accounts have been requested.

“Thousands of students and their distressed parents may see their plans upended,” Schwartz was quoted as saying.

Because the law requires students to be enrolled in public school for 100 days in order to qualify for an ESA, some parents have pulled their children from private schools and enrolled them in public schools. No irreparable harm there?

This should end up before the state Supreme Court. The sooner the better. Attorney General Adam Laxalt this past week filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. That appeal should be expedited for the sake of all Nevada children and parents.

A version of this editorial appears this past week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Update: On Thursday, Laxalt asked the Supreme Court to expedite case so it could be resolved in a matter months. He noted that a new school semester is starting and the new school year starts in seven months.

“Some parents have already been approved to participate in the program and as a result withdrew a child from one school and placed him in another. For many families, their ability to educate their sons and daughters as they believe best hinges on the existence of a fully implemented ESA program,” the motion explains the urgency. “But in the wake of the District Court’s injunction, and the uncertainty and disruption it unleashed, those families now face the agonizing choice of whether or not to continue pursuing the educational options best suited to their children. Some parents even face the immediate prospect of having to withdraw a child freshly settled in a happy new classroom and return her to one that failed her, or, in some cases, caused her emotional or physical pain.”

Motion to Expedite Appeal of ESA


Opponents of ESAs want everyone to suffer equally

Apparently the opponents of the state’s new education savings account (ESA) law have a twisted egalitarian view of how our democracy is supposed to work: All people are created equal and, by Jove, they all should stay that way.

In an op-ed piece in today’s newspaper Sylvia Lazos, policy director of something called Educate Nevada Now, first states that Nevada has just about the worst performing public education system in the nation but then argues that no one should be allowed to opt out because this would leave the public schools with a higher percentage of at-risk pupils.

The ESA program would give parents, whose children have been in public school for 100 consecutive days, with about $5,000 per child to leave public schools and pay for private schooling or homeschooling.

Lazos calculates that, if all the 20,000 children currently in private schools choose to use ESAs, it would cut $100 million to public school budgets. That assumes the parents of those 20,000 students would pull them out of private school and put them in those poor-performing public schools for 100 days.

The part of the equation opponents of ESAs neglect to mention is that Nevada currently spends nearly $9,000 per pupil per year, according to National Education Association figures published in May. For every student who opts out, the public schools would have nearly $4,000 to spend on those who remain — in less crowded classrooms. They keep demanding more money, so there it is.

Winston Churchill:

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

Sylvia Lazos (R-J file photo by Jerry Henkel)