Public-private microschooling partnerships: The Southern Nevada Urban Micro Academy model

This article was originally published by the American Enterprise Institute on April 13, 2021, as part of the organization’s Sketching a New Conservative Education Agenda Series, where it can found in its entirety here.

Key Points:

  • The Southern Nevada Urban Micro Academy (SNUMA) is a first-of-its-kind partnership between the North Las Vegas city government and an innovation-focused education nonprofit, Nevada Action for School Options, to create microschools, operated entirely outside of incumbent public school systems and designed specifically as an in-person solution for city families to counter pandemic learning loss.
  • SNUMA microschools produced academic learning gains that surpassed those of local public schools—and at a fraction of their average, per-pupil funding levels.
  • This report outlines the successful SNUMA model and explains how it could be scaled nationally.

Scaling the Model

This partnership microschooling model is adaptable and can be used in a variety of settings, including employers looking to help their employees with schooling options for their children, churches working with their congregations and communities, and other municipalities. A wide range of locations are suitable for microschooling, from empty office buildings to church rooms to rec centers and libraries.

The whole concept, even the municipal services contract that created SNUMA, bringing together knowledgeable education leaders, capable managers, and forward-thinking government leaders, is elegantly simple. As such, it is an attractive solution to a massive, common problem: oversized, mismanaged county school districts whose ineffectiveness threatens the future livelihoods of their own communities.

At first, SNUMA met with sharp resistance from some in or aligned with school district leadership, who publicly worried about the complications family withdrawals from underperforming district schools would present for future budget cycles. Critics scrutinized state education laws, seeking any statutory lines this radical new model may have crossed. As more state officials visited SNUMA and observed its success firsthand, such challenges have waned.

Nonetheless, leaders in different states who are considering adopting their own public-private microschooling partnership models should search their states’ statutory and regulatory infrastructure for prohibitions or obstacles that could be addressed early in the planning process.

Partnership microschools using the SNUMA model should appeal to conservatives for several reasons. They are substantially less expensive than most existing schooling models and much more productive in terms of inputs and outcomes. They are nimble and able to meet the evolving needs of small groups of learners in ways that even charter schools struggle to do. They can operate outside the regulatory tentacles of public school systems and the lawmakers and regulators who incessantly complicate schooling.

And most importantly, they are what families want. When asked if they would return to traditional public school when it reopened, the majority of the parents who have children participating in SNUMA responded that they would prefer their children stay at SNUMA. One parent stated on a formal survey, “I think SNUMA is as strong or stronger academically due to smaller class size, more personalized attention, self-paced learning. I can see kids achieving much more in this type of setting than in a traditional school.”

Born as a necessary, rational response to the pandemic, partnership microschools like SNUMA are not going away with the end of this school year. The model is well suited to be a reasonable alternative to large, underperforming county school districts going forward, and it should be championed by any seeking new options for families underserved by present systems.

You can read the full article here at the American Enterprise Institute’s website.