Jim Marchant is seeking to represent Nevada Assembly District 37 (AD37) in the coming 2017 Legislative Session. One of the major issues that Nevadans have dealt with is the ongoing controversy surrounding the Education Savings Accounts (ESA) passed in the 2015 legislative session. Marchant is confident that the ESAs are the first step toward school choice and to make the educational system in Nevada functional and competitive.
These are similar to the school choice and voucher initiatives that have cropped up around the country. An ESA would give parents control over where and how they choose to have their children educated. Nevada is the fifth state to institute ESA, but they are the first state to have a program that is considered to be universal.
The controversy began when the Nevada ACLU sued the state over the constitutionality of the ESA. One of their concerns was that tax dollars could be used to provide a child with tuition to attend religious schools. The ACLU petition is only one of the ESA cases the Nevada Supreme Court heard on July 29, 2016. According to Marchant, it is likely the court will agree on the side of the state because the money is given directly to the parents, not to a school.
Educate Nevada Now (ENN), brought the second case before the court stating that ESA would drain the school districts’ coffers leaving them unable to support the financial needs of educating the remaining students. Nevada Public Radio (NPR) reported the amount of money provided to a family with an ESA would be $5,100-5,700 per child.
This case may be harder to decide as the presiding justices questioned the language of the legislation. Their desire is to ensure that ESA is not a drain on the system and that those students remaining in the public schools would continue their education with full resources.
Marchant offered the following explanation: The per-pupil yearly cost to taxpayers to educate a student in the Nevada public school system is between $9-10,000. ESA allows parents to use only a portion of that per-pupil spending ranging between $5,100-5,700. School districts would realize a surplus of approximately $4500 that would stay in the public system. The ESA program is a benefit since school administrators contend they need more per pupil spending to improve a failing program.
Moreover, with each child taken out of the classroom, the problem with teacher shortages and overcrowding would be diminished. In fact, with the extra funds in the district’s budget, the schools would have an increased budget for each remaining child.
On Jan. 26, 2016, “Education Week” released scorecards on the nation’s highest and lowest ranking school systems. The report card shows Nevada coming in last in the U.S. with a score of 65.2 out of 100 percent; just behind is Mississippi with 65.6 and New Mexico, garnering 65.8. School Choice, would be one of the key common sense solutions necessary to improve the quality of education.
While Nevada’s landmark ESA legislation became law in the 2015 session, Marchant stated the program is only the first step in the right direction for the future of Nevada’s children. He believes that ESAs provide a fair market for education. Marchant explained he would like to see schools operate similarly to business models, allowing innovation and competition, that would force a school to become more efficient or fail.
Marchant stands with the parents who are fighting for their right to place their children in the school of their choice, whether that be an online program, homeschooling, or a private institution. He attended the Nevada Supreme Court hearing and completely supports the ESA program. Nevadans appear to want this change to move forward, based on the number of parents and students present to demonstrate at the courthouse.
According to the EdChoice website, 95 percent of the children in Nevada are eligible to participate in ESA. However, there is a loophole known as the 100-day-rule that requires every student must attend a Nevada public or charter school for at least 100 consecutive school days to be eligible to submit an ESA application. The rule creates a barrier to the program’s success. For example, if a child is entering kindergarten in the 2016-2017 school year, and a parent chooses to place their child in an alternative program, they must first meet the 100-day-rule forcing their child to enroll in the public education system. Jim Marchant believes this 100-day-requirement is an unnecessary impediment to this program’s success.
By Cathy Milne
Interview: Jim Marchant; July 29, 2016
Las Vegas Journal-Review: Parents, educators, state officials wait to hear Nevada high court rulings on school choice
Nevada Public Radio: Will The State Supreme Court Overturn Education Savings Accounts?
Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI): A little girl’s future is on trial at the Nevada Supreme Court
Education Week: 2016 Education Rankings Put States, Nation to the Test
EdChoice: ESA Information
Images Courtesy of Jim Marchant – Used With Permission