Teacher unions care more about their share of tax revenue than they do about the quality education of children.
More than anything else, that should be the takeaway from the 2017 legislative session — when opponents of educational choice called the Governor’s bluff on Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).
Of course, the word “bluff” implies that, ultimately, Sandoval was not seriously committed to the program — a conclusion the legislative record confirms.
The road leading to the demise of ESAs was a long one and it was paved by Sandoval’s unwillingness to fight.
After all, Sandoval so prioritized the “Raiders Stadium” over ESAs in the 2016 special session that he refused to even place ESAs before the same legislature that had approved them in the first place.
Similarly, Sandoval’s proposed “fix” so watered down the original program as to verge on the comical.
Yet the governor did promise that an agreement would be worked out in the 2017 regular session to fund the groundbreaking reform in some fashion. And many people in his own political party believed him.
What they should have recognized from the beginning, however, is that ESA opponents — namely teacher unions and the government-school establishment — saw the program as, for them, a life-or-death issue.
Allowing parents to control the educational careers of their own children — even on a miniscule scale — would eventually mean, these corrupt politicians understood, the death knell for the government-monopoly on which their own power rests.
So, more than Sandoval wanted educational choice funded, these special interests wanted it dead.
Sandoval proposed $60 million funding to begin the GOP concessions. Then, as “negotiations” progressed, Republicans agreed on even more cuts, on further restrictions on the program’s future growth and even to transform the program into a scholarship program funded by tax credits.
Even then, nothing short of complete defunding was, for the anti-ESA faction, “enough.”
The apoplexy over the very idea of parent-driven educational choice never quieted.
Still, parents and students continued to hope that some form of ESA funding would survive the hostile environment. After all, thousands of Nevada families were depending on it, and GOP lawmakers had made repeated promises.
Senator Michael Roberson, for example, proudly declared that without ESA funding, Republicans would oppose, in full force, any budget put forward by Democrats.
Not all politicians, as it turns out, were quite so dedicated.
Sandoval showed his first white flag the Friday before sine die, when he needlessly declared that there “would be no threat of a special session.” Then the actual death of the program arrived in a June 4th backroom deal.
Three Republican senators — Heidi Gansert, Becky Harris and Ben Kieckhefer — agreed to vote for the key budget bill, effectively disarming pro-ESA lawmakers of any remaining leverage.
It was a move that was done, ostensibly, as part of a “compromise” with the anti-ESA forces in the legislature. In exchange for killing ESAs, legislative leadership agreed to a $20 million one-time increase to the state’s existing $6 million tax scholarship program for low-income children.
But, anti-choice activists weren’t content with the death of ESAs. Just one week later, the Nevada State Education Association’s Chris Daly told the media that his group would be setting its sights on the scholarship program — fighting to kick off it as many low-income kids as possible in 2019.
“We don’t like [the one time increase]. We’re going to hold the makers of this deal to their commitment that this was a one-time appropriation… and cut it to the $6 million or eliminate the program,” he told the Independent.
The message from Daly was quite clear: The public-education establishment is opposed to absolutely any reform that doesn’t involve funneling more tax dollars into its flailing monopoly system. For the unions and education establishment, even a mere $20 million in scholarships is too much of a threat to allow.
And the reason is transparent. At its heart, the opposition to ESAs has always been about protecting the special interests that batten upon an obsolete government-run education monopoly — a system where every failure is seen as justification for even more tax revenues.
The fact that anti-ESA lawmakers were willing to prioritize the rapacity of this parasitic class over the legitimate needs and rights of Nevada’s youth, however, speaks volumes.
For parents, as they look ahead to 2019, it should be a clarion call.
Michael Schaus is communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.