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School Choice: A Major Priority For Some Education Reformers

School choice is a common refrain among conservatives when discussing education reform.

Seth Rau of the advocacy group Nevada Succeeds says it’s all the more important this session, given the governor’s plan to raise nearly a billion dollars for the state’s school system.

“Some Republicans are in favor of raising the revenue. Some Republicans are not, but the choice issues are the ones that can unite Republicans.”

Rau says that’s because many of the initiatives are fairly inexpensive. For example, the governor has proposed a 20 million dollar fund that would help cover construction costs for charter schools. Rau says another facet of school choice would be an "opportunity tax credit scholarship."

“[It would entail] creating a fund, capped at, say, 50 million dollars, that a business could contribute money away from their taxes toward these scholarships for low-income students to attend high-quality private schools.”

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools lists 34 of them in the state with more than 24,000 students enrolled. But Rau says currently Nevada has some of the lowest performing charter schools in the nation.

Along with the governor’s ideas, Republican Senator Scott Hammond from Las Vegas is spearheading his own  legislation that would start an "education savings account."

“It would be like a bank account where someone would get a debit card and be able to go to a pre-approved educational delivery system of their choice, whether that's a private school, or some other method of educational delivery."

The state spends a specific amount on each child in the public school system. Hammond says the account would give parents a portion of that money from the Distributive Schools Account. The senator isn’t sure yet how much this would cost, but believes school choice should be a big part of education reform.

Assemblyman Elliot Anderson is a Democrat from Las Vegas:

“I’ll be keeping an open mind, however, I do get nervous when I hear about taking money out of public schools and putting that into private schools.”

Anderson says, in general, he’ll support charter schools as long as they’re high-quality and held accountable. In fact, that’s what they did last session.

“Just like traditional public schools, school choice doesn’t always lead to perfect results. “

That’s because students may be dealing with the effects of poverty, or other external factors.

Given the support for school choice among GOP lawmakers, it’s sure to be a part of the final compromise over education and revenue this session.

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.