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Dude, Where’s My Voucher

In his Tuesday night speech, Gov. Brian Sandoval promised to put the $274 million surplus budget windfall into Nevada’s failed education system. He also promised to establish “triggers” so that if the economy continues to improve, future surplus windfalls will also be directed to Nevada’s failed education system.

In addition, the governor specifically directed that the budget surplus money go to the failed class-size reduction program, the failed – or at least unproven – all-day kindergarten program, and non-academic extracurricular activities. He also said this:

“I know in my heart that education isn’t just about the money. What matters most is NOT how much we spend on education, but how well we spend it. To me, education is not about ‘the system.’ It’s about the students, the teachers and the learning environment they cultivate and share.”

The governor went on to decry “the failing culture that has become all too pervasive” in our public schools, noting that “thousands of our students under-perform in virtually every academic subject on every possible test.”

As such, the governor again advocated for his public school reforms, including performance bonuses for exceptional teachers, greater local control, and an end to the “last in, first out” rule that means school districts have to lay off the last teacher hired, even if the last teacher hired is clearly superior to another teacher who was hired first but is stinking up the classroom.

All fine and good. But here’s where the governor lost me.

In concluding his remarks on education reform, Gov. Sandoval called for spending “future revenue on the education of our children, move decisions back to the classroom where they belong…and begin to remove the obstacles to opportunity that confront too many of our students.”

However, the governor’s stated reform proposals in his speech don’t really dedicate future revenue to the education of our children so much as the continued propping up of the failed public school system. Ideally, if you want true education reform, the money should follow the child, not the school district where the child lives.

And what we really need isn’t to move education decisions back to the public school classrooms; what we need is to move education decisions back to PARENTS, including funding to allow low- and middle-income parents the ability to exercise the same school choices as wealthy parents.

Indeed, if you want to “remove the obstacles” that are standing in the way of a better education for a lot of children, you need to remove the monopoly the government enjoys over education, including the destructive power the teachers union. And there’s only one way to do that:

Universal school vouchers and/or tax credits.

Yet despite making school vouchers part of his campaign platform; despite submitting a school voucher proposal that legislative Democrats didn’t even give a public hearing…not one word about school vouchers in the governor’s speech Tuesday night.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen this play before from Republicans.

For example, President George W. Bush initially included school vouchers in his No Child Left Behind proposal, only to drop it in the face of opposition by Sen. Ted Kennedy.

More recently, Gov. Jim Gibbons promised to introduce a school voucher bill as part of the 2010 special legislative session in which he had the power for FORCE Democrats to at least hear and debate the merits of the proposal. But when push came to shove, he dropped it.

It now appears that Gov. Sandoval, too, has abandoned school vouchers, at least for now, and is instead focused on putting new lipstick on the public school pig. Money will continue to flow to the government-run schools rather than to the student. The government-run school monopoly will continue to be empowered, not parents. The status quo is protected.

The problem is that if all that additional money doesn’t fix the problem, and there’s historical evidence to suggest it won’t, there is no escape route for parents and students trapped in the current under-performing system. It’s business as usual. Which means we sentence yet another generation of Nevada students to educational mediocrity….or worse.

Yes, I realize that busting the government monopoly over education through school vouchers and tax credits is hard work politically, but aren’t our children worth it? Shouldn’t we – especially the governor, using his bully pulpit – at least talk about it? Isn’t it time to give choice a chance?