Next Up Blog

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark ruling supporting families’ right to choose any private school, including religious-affiliated schools, for their children as part of state school choice programs.

The Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that Montana’s prohibition against using tax credit scholarships to attend religious schools “discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Federal Constitution.”

This ruling represents a rejection by the Court of so-called “Blaine Amendments,” contained in many states’ constitution, which block families seeking to utilize publicly-funded school choice program to attend faith-based, or religious-affiliated, schools.

In a legal brief included in the case, EdChoice Vice President of Legal Affairs Leslie Hiner argued that the Montana rule violated the right of religious entities to fully engage in public life. “Ultimately, Montana residents with extremely limited educational options are being denied the ability to provide a better education for their children.”

Nevada’s Constitution also contains such a provision — Article 11, Section 10 — which stipulates, “No public funds to be used for sectarian purposes.”

The implications of today’s ruling for Nevada are limited, in the near-term. The tiny Opportunity Scholarship program currently includes less than 2,000 students using their scholarships to attend faith-based private schools. While the Nevada legislature cut funding to this program last year, no court has found the program problematic.

Today’s ruling may hold future implications should state decisionmakers reconsider Nevada’s Education Savings Account law, passed in 2015.  Nevada’s Supreme Court in 2016 concluded in response to a legal challenge to the program that it is, in fact, allowed by Nevada’s constitution, although Section 10’s prohibition on funding for sectarian purposes required that lawmakers identify alternate revenue sources for the program.

Also last year, lawmakers acted to strike the Education Savings Account language from state law, although this legislation, SB 551, is currently the subject of a different challenge before the Nevada Supreme Court, filed by the eight Republican Senators who voted against the bill.

It is unlikely that today’s Supreme Court ruling will cause any changes to school choice programs in Nevada unless the legislature revisits these questions, either in a currently-pending special session or in its scheduled 2021 session.

It is nonetheless, a widely-anticipated positive development for school choice and for families seeking to exercise educational freedom to choose faith-based schools to meet their educational needs.  Nevada families have persistently registered overwhelming support for programs that include private school choice, most recently at a rate of 70 percent statewide.

 

ESSER Competitive Grant Preliminary Award Summary_9.16.2020

This project produced in partnership with the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities and Nevada Succeeds.

The Clark County School District, like districts across the nation, is creating a school reopening plan for the fall. However, these plans make two (often unrecognized) assumptions. The first assumption is that teachers and school-based staff will be comfortable returning to the schools given the current COVID-19 public health crisis. The second assumption is that these groups of professionals will agree on the measures required to realize a safe reopening. To explore these assumptions, the Guinn Center, Nevada Action for School Options, and Nevada Succeeds partnered to administer an independent survey to school-based licensed and support staff, as well as school administrators.

The purpose of the survey is to understand the comfort level of these professionals in returning to classrooms given the current preparation underway by districts. The survey also asks respondents to consider the importance of specific actions schools and districts could enact to attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The survey, which was administered between June 15th to June 24th, was anonymous and included 11 questions. Overall, we received 9,220 responses statewide. Of these, 6,932 (75.1 percent) were CCSD employees, which included 5,407 licensed educators, 1,346 support staff, and 179 school administrators. The data presented below include only responses from CCSD employees. While this summary represents initial discoveries, a more complete report with additional findings will be forthcoming.

Comfortability Returning to Schools The survey included two questions about the respondents’ comfort levels returning to their school and/or classroom. The first question asked individuals to provide their comfort level given the current school/district policies, while the second asked about their comfort level given all the public health precautions they felt necessary to adopt (except the availability of a vaccine).

As displayed in the figure below, a greater percentage of CCSD school employees felt uncomfortable returning to schools given the current policies than those that were comfortable or expressed neutral feelings (52 percent to 48 percent). If additional precautions are taken, a larger percentage of employees would be comfortable returning to school in the fall, but a sizable group of employees — 32 percent of the respondents — will remain uncomfortable returning to school in the fall. This challenges one of the assumptions of school-reopenings during the pandemic — that all school employees will be comfortable returning to schools in the fall.

Student-Centered Focus of Respondents The survey also offered respondents the opportunity to provide comments regarding the actions that the district and Nevada Department of Education could undertake to increase their confidence in reopening schools safely. Specifically, the open-ended question asked, “What actions — if taken by school leadership, districts, and/or the Nevada Department of Education — would increase your confidence that schools are ready to reopen in the fall?” Individuals provided opinions ranging from reopening schools without any changes necessary to moving to 100 percent virtual instruction until a vaccine is available. However, despite the differing opinions provided, students and learning were the primary foci of respondents’ concerns – as evidenced by the word cloud below that was created with the open-ended responses from this survey question.

Even though school building professionals may have different ideas about the best set of actions or strategies district and state leaders should pursue to enhance safety, the ideas are informed largely by concern for the students, both their safety and learning environment.

Options for Reopening The survey asked respondents how strongly they agreed or disagreed with various actions schools and districts could undertake as a reaction to COVID-19. These results are presented in the Appendix. Respondent groups held similar views on the importance of various actions — with the percentage of respondents agreeing with the statements in remarkably similar patterns. However, interesting differences did emerge (challenging the second assumption that differing groups of professionals will agree on the best course to reopen schools). Significant findings included:

  • Overall, licensed educators, support staff, and school administrators provided remarkably positive responses to nearly all proposed actions the district could take to support schools to combat COVID-19 related issues.
  • While respondents note they want more disinfecting supplies in the classrooms, actions that engage families in the process of keeping the students, teachers, and the school safe also elicited high levels of support.
  • Licensed and support staff more strongly support mandatory temperature checks for everyone entering the school building than school administrators.
  • Licensed and support staff more strongly support more flexible sick leave policies for all school-based personnel than school administrators.

The full, statewide report and analysis will be published in early July.

This 10-minute video features 11 of the talented young poets, all finalists in the “When I Get My World Back” poetry competition we held this spring during National Poetry Month.

During National Poetry Month, and in the early weeks of the pandemic shutdowns, we asked our young poets to reflect on any of three elements in the poetry they submitted to the contest, inspired by the theme “When I Get My World Back”:

A place you would like to visit

A thing you would like to do

A person you would like to emulate

Participants were in grades K-12, and include students attending traditional district, public charter, private and homeschools around Nevada.  We are confident you will enjoy what our inspiring young poets shared with us in their poetry submissions.

As schools and school districts look ahead to the 2020-21 school year, it is essential that decision makers stay informed about the priorities and perspectives of our professional educators regarding what constitutes a safe reopening of school buildings, as well as supports the needs of educators and school-based staff in school reopenings. With this in mind, the Guinn Center, Nevada Succeeds and Nevada Action for School Options have produced this survey.

We hope you will take a few minutes to complete the following questions. Responses will be compiled and shared with education decision makers across Nevada.

This poll is written for all Nevada K-12 educators and professional staff to participate in, including those who work in school district public schools, public charter schools and private schools.

Click here to take and submit the survey.

All surveys will remain confidential. The information from the opening questions will be used to disaggregate the answers for purposes of objective analysis, and WILL NOT be used to allow for the identification of any survey participants. You are not required to provide a response to these, or any, questions in the survey if you do not feel comfortable providing an answer. The survey is 11 questions and we anticipate the survey will take you no longer than 10 minutes to complete.

The deadline for completed surveys to be counted is Wednesday, June 24th at 5pm. We ask that you complete the survey only once. We also hope that you will help us to maximize participation by sharing this with any colleagues or fellow educators.

If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to Kenneth Retzl – kretzl@guinncenter.org

Thank you for your work for Nevada students.

Signed,

Guinn Center
Nevada Action for School Options
Nevada Succeeds

This report you can download here was produced as a collaboration we had the pleasure to undertake with the National Charter School Institute.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, schools around the nation were forced to pivot to remote education plans with very little time for planning. We did what we had to do, with mixed results and an extraordinary amount of patience from our families.

Now, charter schools and authorizers alike must act nimbly and quickly to create an environment for schools to succeed meeting the needs of their students and fulfill their mission under the difficult conditions necessitated for safety and required by government authorities.

This report focuses on seven essential domains schools need to address, with descriptions and examples of how they can incorporate them into distance learning plans moving forward:

  1. Curriculum, Instruction and Evaluation
  2. Student Engagement/Behavior and Social-Emotional Support
  3. Equitable Access to Learning
  4. Special Populations
  5. Staff Professional Development
  6. Family Engagement
  7. Resiliency for Managing Through Crisis

While this report was written for charter schools, it is our hope that educators and leaders across different sectors of K-12 education will find it a useful guide.