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January 28, 2015

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Charter schools, vouchers on education leaders’ wish list

Sun coverage

Nevada's education leaders called for the expansion of charter schools and vouchers during a panel discussion highlighting School Choice Week.

School Choice Week celebrates a national movement that supports nontraditional education choices such as homeschooling and private, virtual, magnet and charter schools. Special events are taking place across the country between Jan. 27 and Feb. 3 to raise awareness about school choice.

Proponents of school choice argue too many of the nation's children are zoned to failing public schools, effectively trapping them into a lifetime of poverty. Many see alternative schools, parental empowerment and vouchers as a way out for these students.

However, staunch public education advocates argue school choice diverts much-needed tax dollars away from struggling public schools, weakening their ability to educate students. Nationally, this contentious issue has pitted different parent, teacher and community factions against each other, spawning fierce debates in cities like Philadelphia, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Nevada has been largely shielded from this divisive debate. The Silver State has a relatively low number of charter schools, and Las Vegas Valley parents have enjoyed open enrollment to a bevy of nontraditional schools.

However, this simmering issue may likely boil over in the coming years as state and local leaders push for more school choice. When the Legislature convenes Monday — just as School Choice Week ends — legislators will debate several bills calling for a new "parent trigger" law, school vouchers for low-income students and facility/capital support for charter schools.

State Superintendent Jim Guthrie, Public Charter School Authority Director Steve Canavero and state Sen. Barbara Cegavske hinted at these upcoming school choice discussions during a roundtable discussion Tuesday.

The RISE Education Resource Center, an academic support center for home-schooled children, and the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a libertarian think tank, co-sponsored the event, which was attended by about 50 people representing the Clark County School District, home-school networks, charter and private schools.

Here are some of the proposed school choice bills:

Charter Schools: Guthrie argued for more charter schools, which are public schools that operate under a contract from either the state or the local school district to use innovative techniques and curricula to teach students.

Nevada has been slow to adopt charter schools since they were first allowed in 1997. Nevada has just 32 charter schools, the fewest of any Southwestern state. About 4 percent of Nevada students attend charter schools.

Guthrie argued the Silver State must double or triple its number of charter schools to provide unique learning opportunities for students and to create a competitive environment to improve public schools. Proponents of school choice argue that the presence of quality charter schools compels low-performing traditional public schools to improve, or else risk losing per-pupil funding.

"Right now, there's not enough (charter schools) to make a difference (in public education)," Guthrie said. "We need a critical mass of choice."

Last legislative session, Nevada became the seventh state in the nation to adopt an independent chartering board, which has been tasked with approving more high-quality charter schools. Over the past two years, the state's Public Charter School Authority has received 14 new charter school applications and approved five.

The authority now oversees 16 charter schools enrolling 14,000 students. This effectively made the authority the third largest school district in the state, Canavero said.

However, charter schools face a huge financial and bureaucracy hurdle when starting out. Although charter schools receive state per-pupil funding, they do not get any capital money for facilities. New operators also must compile a charter school application that is often hundreds of pages long.

Over the next four months, legislators may deliberate several bills to help charter schools find adequate campus facilities and simplify the application process.

The Clark County School District is sponsoring Senate Bill 59, which would allow charter schools to use district facilities during the school day — currently prohibited under state law.

In addition, the charter school authority hopes to sponsor a bill that would create a $750,000 revolving loan account, which would be used by qualified charter schools to lease classroom space and purchase chairs, desks and computers. The authority also is looking at shortening the application and replacing the current charters with a performance-based business contract.

"We're trying to build an environment that is predictive and anchored in best practices," Canavero said. "Nevada has come a long way. Charter schools are here and very much a part of the equation."

Parent empowerment: There are four proposed bills aimed at empowering parents to take control of their local schools. The so-called "parent trigger" bills would allow families to petition local school boards to turn over traditional public schools into myriad alternative options, such as charter schools.

Similar laws have sparked much controversy in neighboring California. The issue also was highlighted in a recent Hollywood movie, "Won't Back Down," starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis.

Proponents of the parent trigger argue the law will hold schools accountable. If parents have the right to directly change their public schools, schools likely will improve.

"This will give parents the power and opportunity to choose the school that's best for their children," Sen. Cegavske said. "Parents know best what's best for their children."

Vouchers: Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed a new scholarship fund during his State of the State address in January. The Opportunity Scholarship fund would allow low-income families to send their children to the school of their choice.

The fund — which is similar to the McKay Scholarship Program in Florida — may come from a business or individual tax credit, or from state money. It is unclear how much money can be raised for this fund, however.

Cegavske said these vouchers aren't about siphoning money away from public schools, rather it's about ensuring that Nevada's children are educated well.

"Why can't the money follow the student?" Cegavske asked. "Why do we keep funding schools and programs that aren't working?

"Competition is healthy in business and in anything. Education is not any different. Options are good."

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  1. THe parent trigger law is irrelevant - parent involvement in Las Vegas is so low that the law would never be utilized.

    Overheard in school office:

    Parent: I'm here to pick up my son.
    Office staff: Who is his teacher?
    Parent: I'm not sure.
    Office staff: What grade is he in?
    Parent: I'm not sure.

  2. Don't do it Nevada! It is nothing but a front to make money. Example: Politician Mayor owns land under a strip mall. Politicians Wife ownes the building and decides to modify it for a school. Politicians church pal runs he Charter School Management company. They all make money off of us taxpayers with children coming in last. Also, they may have a religious agenda just look up "The Gulen Movement". Why does a Turkish Imam have over a 100 charter schools in the United States? It is all a racket and a front for something else. Many, many, Charter Schools fail because they are improperly run with just a few succeeding. Oh, and that small class size you parents have been looking for? Well the more students that attented the more money they get. Just check out ChaterSchoolScandals.blogspot. Educate yourself you may think twice about these Charter schools.

  3. Public K-12 in Nevada is broken. Money won't fix it. School choice is the ONLY option for our students. Just look at Washoe County SD--the Super (from CCSD) is paid mucho bucks and spends his time playing with numbers--they "need" half a trillion to get up to "par." NONSENSE. Why pay the big bucks to fixate on conning the taxpayers out of unconscionable money? "Each child by name...." has been publicized by Reporter David Brooks several years ago--and I helped disseminate it. It is NOT money that keeps kids in school--it is recognition of individuals as individuals and teaching the basics.

  4. Give parents a choice. A voucher program is the best bet in my opinion. Give the parents a voucher for 6k and let the parents make a decision to use it at the private school of their choice. That amount is less than what is normally given to CCSD so CCSD get to keep the difference without having to service that student, increasing the amount per student that CCSD would receive.

    I don't like charter schools when compared with private schools. Private schools have to perform or they won't succeed. My definition of charter schools are private schools that are overseen by the same dysfunctional administration as our public schools.

  5. Part 1 of 2: Parents already have a CHOICE.

    In my 40+ years of having various types of educational exchanges and experiences, all along the way here in this country, parents have always had the choice of where to have their child(ren) educated.

    Even private schools will extend "scholarships" to worthy applicants who don't possess the financial means otherwise to enroll and attend their school. These systems have been around for a very long time. Private and charter schools can screen applicants, especially noting how involved the parent is with their child and with the child's school. Voucher money won't buy a seat if the child has significant issues and the parent is not involved, so let's get this clear. Any parent who puts their child into a charter, magnet, private school, or do home schooling, must be actively involved and have a great commitment about seeing their child succeed and is willing to do anything the institution calls upon them to do towards that end. Seriously.

    And THAT is where Lawmakers and public education has FAILED, they have fallen short in not requiring and putting enforcement teeth in parent and student accountability where it is obviously LACKING. Money, energy, resources, and time would be well invested and spent in this direction. Even the need for prisons would be reduced as a pleasant outcome. So why aren't they and we doing this???

    If we all desire a positive return on our educational investment taxpayer dollars, let's give parent and student accountability a try. It just may cost far less than going the way (which has proven to have a mixed record of successes and affectiveness) of vouchers and sketchy charter school alternatives. If you moved into a neighborhood with poorly performing schools, usually that reflects parent involvement within that neighborhood. Schools respond to what the neighborhood expects, especially when you have some very vocal parents, caregivers, and neighbors DEMANDING it and not backing down.

    Some parents after moving into a neighborhood, discover the reality of their neighborhood choice, and then decide to move their child(ren) to the type of schooling they are accustomed to and expect in a different (and having better values and standards) neighborhood. We know this is true, and won't talk about it for fear of offending others to we have to live around (in the meantime...until one can change neighborhoods). Quite a few Commenter here know what I am talking about.

    Blessings and Peace,

  6. Part 2 of 3 (sorry, I added more):
    Leadership must grow a backbone and address parent involvement and student participation effectively by backing enforcement of the accountability standards and INVOLVEMENT ACCORD, already a part of public schools' enrollment documentation. Millions of taxpayer dollars are spent printing and administering this document, but there is NO ENFORCEMENT OF IT!!! Why is that?

    This statement said it all for me, "Proponents of the parent trigger argue the law will hold schools accountable. If parents have the right to directly change their public schools, schools likely will improve." The "parent trigger" movement should advocate ALL parents/caregivers being involved with their child and school, and insist that Lawmakers enforce accountability at schools. If we started there, it would make the job for school administrators easier to either help or remove an ineffective teacher. But when there is a classroom full of low functioning students, who came to school (Pre-K or Kindergarten) already years behind, and in the mix, chronic behavioral problems, all of which indicate that these children have parents who are not involved, have low values, or lack education and success themselves, it becomes problematic to "evaluate" a teacher. That is where we NEED to give parents, caregivers, and even prospective parents, the heads up that they are being loooked at as well, and will be made accountable. All of us, together, make up the system/institution we all co-exist and function through.

    Massive overhauls in Nevada's welfare system could address parent involvement and student performance as well, by instituting assistance based on positive growth outcomes, performance, and student behaviors as demonstrated on student progress reports and term report cards. We have invested in a system that is capable of transmitting this information, and it sure would prompt these parents to actively monitor and assist their child(ren) towards being educated and having the tools in life to succeed. It will either reduce student behavioral problems or address them in a way to get the child and parent needed help. When we are looking at half of our population in on some form of social assistance, we need to involve those supporting agencies, and we will see much better results overall. If the taxpayer is already on the hook to support these folks, let's have accountability!!!!

    Blessings and Peace,

  7. Finally, Part 3 of 3:
    Parents are their child's first and lifelong teacher.

    Without positive, effective support of the student's parent, that child's growth will never reach its full potential. We must have the child's parent(s) or caregivers working together with those who will also come into that child's life and nurture learning, growth, and success. This is NOT one-sided. All parties involved, must work effectively together in order for that child to succeed.

    In my attempt to bring some light to school alternatives, some might take exception. Typically, these are the kind people who already are doing the right thing, being supportive and responsible for their child, their community, and our planet, and I have the upmost praise and respect for these exceptional and incredible human beings. On the outside edges of this educational controversy are amazingly committed and fabulous parents who really rock their child's world and those around them from all stations of life. Their children are beacons of success and hope in their schools. God love them! Their presence lights up any room and event, they truly make the world a much better place, and are so very welcomed and appreciated for all they are and do. I have seen them in every type of schooling, and THIS is the "voucher of love and commitment" that is priceless.

    The state of education is at its worst during one of the greatest ages of information and knowledge. We have a real problem.

    Blessings and Peace,