Senate bill would give school choice a chance |

Senate bill would give school choice a chance

by Chuck Muth

It’s no longer even arguable among objective observers: The problem with America’s mediocre government-run schools isn’t a lack of money but a lack of competition. Monopolies are inherently less productive and incredibly resistant to change. Ask any businessman.

That’s why Nevada State Sen. Barbara Cegavske’s “Special Needs Scholarship” bill (SB 158) may be the most important piece of legislation to be considered this session.

The proposal itself is rather small in its actual scope, but huge for its precedent-setting potential. Modeled after the McKay Scholarships, a similar program in Florida, the Cegavske Scholarships would allow parents or legal guardians to choose a licensed private school for children who suffer from a disability or other special needs, including children from broken homes.

“Children with special needs require a higher degree of individualized attention and accommodation than regular-education students,” explains Cegavske. “In order to provide the educational experience most suited to their circumstances, it is preferable to allow the widest array of options to special education students in selecting a school.”

Simply put, the money currently going to the public school which the child attends would instead follow the child in the form of a “scholarship” to the preapproved private school of his or her parents’ choice.

Will the private school do a better job than the public school? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s not the point. The point is, it would be up to the PARENT to decide which is better, not the government. And this principle lies at the heart of the program’s potential for de-monopolizing the public school system in Nevada. Once the principle of school choice is established as a precedent for special-needs children, the door opens for all manner of other school-choice options, eventually leading to universal school choice.

Perhaps next we can provide scholarships for kids whose parents want to send their non-English-speaking child to a private school specializing in English immersion.

Or how about using scholarships to alleviate school overcrowding? Let’s say a certain public school is 200 students over its limit. You give 200 parents scholarships if they’ll just send their kids to a private school, immediately eliminating the overcrowding problem without the humongous expense of building an entire new facility to accommodate just 200 kids.

With any luck, Sen. Cegavske’s bill will at least make it out of the Republican-controlled Senate and move over to the state Assembly – where the education bureaucracy and the teacher unions call the shots. As such, Speaker Buckley will give the Cegavske Scholarships a quick and certain death.

But make no mistake. The school-choice ball has been moved downfield. The only thing blocking the emancipation of thousands upon thousands of Nevada students from a mediocre education is a change in public officials.

This is a winning campaign issue Republicans should run on in 2008 and beyond. After all, it’s for the children.

• Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a limited-government public policy organization.