A seventh-grade classroom studies English at Democracy Prep in Las Vegas, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 201 ...

How Nevada stymies education entrepreneurs | EDITORIAL

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In theory, strong regulations are supposed to guarantee excellence. In practice, they often protect mediocrity, which is what’s happening with Nevada schools.

It would be hard to find someone with a more impressive background than James Lomax. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy, serving as a weapons systems officer in FA-18F Super Hornets. He would later earn an MBA and work as an engineer.

That’s an impressive resume, but Mr. Lomax soon had a new priority. As the Foundation for Economic Education detailed recently, he wasn’t satisfied with the education his daughter received at a private preschool in Las Vegas. The school had a stellar academic reputation, but Mr. Lomax wanted an option that fostered more creativity.

Mr. Lomax came across the Acton Academy. It’s a network of hundreds of loosely affiliated private schools. Some use the term micro-school. Acton schools emphasis “Socratic discussions to strengthen critical thinking” and “adaptive game-based programs for core skills.” Parents have founded hundreds of these schools, which are in more than 30 states and more than two dozen countries.

Education professionals talk about the need for engaged parents. They’re right. Parents are a child’s most important teacher. Involved parents do wonders for their children’s academic pursuits. Schools such as these are the ultimate example of parental involvement. You would think Nevada officials would welcome Mr. Lomax’s efforts.

But he soon discovered that he wasn’t allowed to open a private school. State regulations require private school administrators to have a teacher’s or administrator’s license or several years of experience in educational administration. Schools connected to faith-based groups are exempt from this requirement, but Mr. Lomax didn’t want to start a religious campus.

This is an example of occupational licensing gone awry. Licensing is supposed to ensure quality. But despite extensive licensing requirements, Nevada’s education outcomes are terrible. Fewer than 40 percent of fourth graders in the Clark County School District are proficient in reading. The most direct impact of Nevada’s education licensing requirements is the ongoing teacher shortage.

Proponents of licensing see accountability. But if Mr. Lomax were able to start his school, he would face far greater accountability than a license could provide. He would have to provide a quality education or parents would leave.

Today, the primary function of licensing is to impose a barrier to entry. Mr. Lomax’s impressive background doesn’t matter because he hasn’t jumped through the right — and artificially imposed — hoops. That needs to change.

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