Hundreds rally for charter school measures at Nevada Capitol

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — An estimated 500 students, parents and teachers — many wearing bright yellow scarves and carrying signs that said "I trust parents" — gathered near the Capitol in Carson City on Wednesday to show their support for measures that would make it easier for families to move their children to charter or private schools.

The rally in an outdoor amphitheater, which featured a student band, speakers and an impromptu dance party, was one of dozens of events across the state marking what proponents have declared National School Choice Week. Organizers say parents should have the option and financial support to pick a charter school, private school or home school setting if they're not satisfied with traditional public schools.

"It's important to show the community that there's a wide variety of people here, all types of people, here to support school choice," said Seth Rau, policy director at Nevada Succeeds, and education think tank. "Based on the political reality, we have a great opportunity to expand choice this year."

While proponents say making it easier for parents to choose alternatives will create healthy competition that will in turn improve public schools, critics — including many Democrats — are skeptical of the movement and believe the expansion of charter schools will come at the expense of investing in traditional schools.

"We're on board with protecting public education," said Laura Martin, a spokeswoman for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. "If the education system is not doing well, why is the answer to build new schools?"

Many Republican state lawmakers campaigned on expanding such legislation, and the party now has a controlling majority in both houses of the Legislature. Gov. Brian Sandoval has taken on the cause, proposing measures that include an opportunity scholarship in which businesses would get a tax break if they donate to a scholarship fund.

The money would be applied to scholarships that students in low-performing schools could use to attend a different school that their family chooses.

"This governor believes that what our job has to come down to is a quality selection for the families of our state, so that families can choose the right path for their kids," said state Superintendent Dale Erquiaga.

Speakers at the event included Carrie Buck, a former principal in the Clark County School District who is now head of Pinecrest Academy, a public charter school in Henderson. She talked about the pain of navigating the bureaucracy of a large school district and the advantages of being much closer to the board of directors under the charter school structure.

"My principal colleagues surviving in the matrix are good, smart and nice people, but oh so frustrated to be in such a hugely ineffective system," Buck said. "You become one of 357 district principals who are continually forced to fight against internal obstacles."

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