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What’s in a name? School choice opponents try to confuse public

CARSON CITY — It was only an opening skirmish, but Thursday’s hearing in Senate Finance previewed how desperate liberals are to stop Education Savings Accounts, Nevada’s groundbreaking school-choice program.

It starts with the name. Democrats and liberal groups would rather endorse Donald Trump than say the words “Education Savings Accounts.”

“Vouchers aren’t the only form of choice,” said Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas. “You can call it an ESA if you want to. I’m going to call it a voucher.”

This is like saying LeBron James is a great baseball player because he’s awesome in a sport with a round ball.

Both ESAs and vouchers are forms of school choice, but they have important structural and practical differences. ESAs allow parents to withdraw children from public schools, take a portion of the money government would have spent on enrollment and use it on a wide range of education services. And parents can save any unused money for future educational expenses. Vouchers, meanwhile, are a direct payment from the government to a private school for a student’s tuition. They don’t allow students to pick and choose services. Parents don’t control voucher revenue.

It’s unclear if ESA opponents say “voucher” for political purposes or if they really think they’re interchangeable terms. As I write this, two lobbyists are discussing this morning’s hearing. They’re giddy that Ford uses the “v-word” when talking about ESAs, and then one asks the other if there are actually differences between ESAs and vouchers.


 

Nevada’s ESAs passed in 2015 when Republicans controlled Carson City, but the Nevada Supreme Court blocked the program over its funding source. Republicans want to provide funding that will survive court challenges; majority Democrats want to kill ESAs once and for all.

More than 8,000 parents have signed up for ESAs, myself included, despite no marketing and the liberal campaign to kill the program . Many more — from all income levels — will sign up once ESAs are established.

The popularity of ESAs is terrifying to teachers unions, one of liberals’ most important special-interest groups. ESAs allow students to escape the failing public school system. Fewer students in public schools mean fewer teachers the union can extract dues from. Decreased union dues means reduced campaign contributions for liberal politicians. Follow the money.

“The governor’s committed to it (ESAs),” Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, told me earlier this week.

The posturing will continue, but come June, the governor’s position is the only position that matters.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Nevada section each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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