by Félix Pérez
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Chris Giunchigliani’s years as a special education teacher inform her positions as a candidate for Nevada’s highest elected office, particularly when it comes to taking scarce funding from public schools to give it to private schools in the form of vouchers. Her take: “Legislators chose to call Nevada’s voucher program ‘Education Savings Accounts,’ but let’s call it what it is — vouchers which steal public tax dollars to give away to corporations and private religious groups, with little or no accountability.”
The likely Republican candidate in the governor’s race, Adam Laxalt, not only supports the state’s version of private school vouchers,or Education Savings Accounts, he has boasted of defending them in court. “I am a supporter of Education Savings Accounts. . . I am proud of the work my office did defending ESAs all the way to the Nevada Supreme Court,” said Laxalt, the state attorney general, in an interview.
Nevada made national news in June 2015 when the state legislature passed and the governor signed into law a universal school voucher program described as “vouchers on steroids” and “vouchers for all.” It was the first law in the nation to offer private school vouchers to all students in an entire state regardless of income, disability or other special status. The state’s supreme court ruled in October 2016 that the funding mechanism for the program was unconstitutional. The legislature, which meets every two years, adjourned last year without the funding the program.
In a column written three months before the Nevada Supreme Court handed down its ruling, Giunchigliani, in her current position as a member of the Clark County commissioner, wrote:
For over 460,000 children in Nevada, public education was and is the great equalizer. Public education bridges the social class gap. It was education that gave a young person like me access to a profession, entrée into the middle class, and a political career.
So why are we jeopardizing our collective future with schemes like ESA vouchers, which undermine public education?
The voucher law will take public taxpayer dollars to subsidize religious and private education. We need to remember that private schools are not held to the same accountability and performance standards as Nevada’s public and charter schools. They don’t have to hire qualified teachers; they do not have to teach a standard curriculum; and if a private or religious school wants to reject science, they are entitled to do so by law. These schools can turn away kids who are deemed not to “fit in,” and statistics show that these are often children with disabilities, those from different cultures who may not speak English, or simply those who are behind in school.
Laxalt, a rising star in national conservative circles, makes clear ESAs “will be a large component” of the education plan he would roll out if elected governor. “I’m going to push for funding” for the voucher program, Laxalt said in an interview last month. “We need ESAs. I think it’s a great innovative program.”
Giunchigliani’s long track record on public education has earned her the endorsement of the 24,0,000-member Nevada State Education Association. “There has never been a candidate for governor with such a lifetime commitment to public schools and quality public education for every Nevada student,” said special education teacher and NSEA President Ruben Murillo Jr. “Chris G. was a leading voice for public education when she recruited me into the union in 1988, and she has never stopped her advocacy for public schools and our students. NSEA is 100 percent committed to making sure Chris Giunchigliani becomes our Education Governor.”