Opportunity Scholarships deserve funding | RecordCourier.com

Opportunity Scholarships deserve funding

by Brant and Amber Wilhelm

In business, the careful evaluation of opportunity costs can make all the difference in profit and loss. It considers forfeiting gains among the alternatives.

In education, there also are opportunity costs, too, and a critical one that Gov. Steve Sisolak is neglecting, out of hand, is the value of the Nevada Opportunity Scholarship program, which was not included in his original budget proposal.

Approved by the Legislature in 2015 to provide socio-economically challenged students the opportunity to apply for educational grants funded by private businesses to attend schools of their choice, the Opportunity Scholarship has been a wildly popular — and successful — program.

Since the program’s inception, the number of scholarship recipients has doubled every year to over 2,300 scholarship awardees this year. And of those receiving the scholarship, 94 percent live within 200 percent of the poverty line, 75 percent qualify for the federal free lunch program, and 70 percent identify with an underrepresented ethnic community.

The NVOS is not only a program that reaches aspirational students from challenging financial circumstances and under represented communities, it has also seen these students grow academically as well.

Last month the Nevada Department of Education released its first longitudinal study of academic achievement by these scholarship students based on results from six different standardized assessments, and the results showed 68 percent of the students showed a positive score change. This is juxtaposed to virtually any study or measurement that shows Nevada public schools are ranked last in the nation. Look it up.

Tragically, however, political partisanship does not appear to represent opportunity for NVOS students. And equally as tragic is a myopic view by many Democrats that education is one size fits all, and that there is only one road up the mountain.

More specifically, the discussion of public and private schools working together to educate students is not an option to many Democrats. To many of them, It’s a zero sum game, with no middle ground.

Though 32 states across the country offer scholarship programs similar to the NVOS, Sisolak and the state Democrats are doubling down on a broken system at the peril of 2,300 students in the program. These hard working and successful students are now looking at the possibility of having their scholarships stripped from them. And not only does the opportunity cost discriminate against ambitious students struggling to survive on the economic margins of our society, the actual cost-benefit doesn’t add up.

At the center of the issue is the continuance of $20 million for this program, as proposed by Gov. Brian Sandoval to the new administration. However, redistributed over the state’s almost 500,000 students in public education, the net benefit comes to only $40 per student.

A closer look at the negligible financial impact defunding the program would have shows that redistributing this total sum would represent 0.0031 percent of the last biennial education budget of $6.37 billion dollars. So, when weighing the opportunity cost for students who are succeeding juxtaposed to the state’s abysmal public school education rating and the de minimis financial gain, it’s clear that targeting other money to bolster public education is clearly in order.

Five years ago, our family was blessed to offer a loving home to three girls through adoption. They have overcome a difficult start in life but thanks to God’s grace and a private school environment that was willing to work with them, and us, as parents. It was a better fit for our children than the other options in our area.

Although we do not benefit directly from the Nevada Opportunity Scholarship, our children benefit from having not only a school that offers a great education, but also the diversity of having peers from all walks of life. The opportunity cost of 2,300 passionate students having their scholarships ripped away is not only a loss for them but for Nevada’s future. Fair-minded Nevadans should not let this go unchallenged.

Brant and Amber Wilhelm are Johnson Lane residents.