When Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signed S.B. 302 on Tuesday, he gave all Nevada parents the ability and financial resources, if they choose, to establish education savings accounts (“ESAs”) to pay for the education chosen by the parents for each child. In so doing, Gov. Sandoval and the Nevada legislature reaffirmed the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children, a right which many would argue that state and local governments, as well as the federal government, have trampled.
The United States Supreme Court, in a 1925 case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, said, in declaring unconstitutional an Oregon statute requiring all children to attend public schools: “The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” The inescapable reality of America’s K-12 system of public education is that only those with the financial resources to pay private school tuition, or purchase a home in a good school district, are able to exercise this right. Nevada’s ESA statute equalizes the playing field for lower and middle-income parents, especially minority students.
We cannot, and should not, stop with Nevada, a state with @ 500,000 students in K-12 public schools. The other 30 states with Republican governors and legislatures controlled by Republicans should immediately consider giving the parents of the 30 million children in public schools in their states the same rights just given to Nevada parents. According to the 2013 edition of the National Center for Education Statistics, $150 billion of state funding is provided to K-12 education in those 30 states, in addition to @$200 billion of federal and local revenue. If all 30 states kept it simple and passed the Nevada statute in their state, all 30 million students in those states could receive an ESA with $5,000 annually.
While the Republican governors and legislatures work to offer state-funded ESAs, every candidate running for the presidency in 2016 should be asked this question: Do you support using the current federal funding for K-12 education to offer $5,000 ESAs to the poorest children in the country? If not, then do you agree with this statement by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal: “While Georgia boasts many schools that achieve academic excellence every year, we still have too many schools where students have little hope of attaining the skills they need to succeed in the workforce pr higher education.We have a moral duty to do everything we can do to help these children.” Gov. Deal’s words ring just as true for the rest of the country.
The bottom line is that Nevada’s passage of ESAs should force every public official in the country to declare whether or not they support the right of every parent to choose the best education for all 50 million students currently attending K-12 public schools.