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Nevada stands out because it has these licensing rules that make it harder for families to get an education and put limits on the private education sector.
James Lomax has wanted to fly Navy fighter jets ever since he was seven years old and saw the first Top Gun movie. In the mid-1980s, he decided to do well in school. He worked hard and was accepted to the United States Naval Academy, where he studied to become a Weapon Systems Officer (WSO) in the FA-18F Super Hornet. Lomax got an MBA, and when he was done with active duty in the military, he worked as an engineer helping test electronic warfare systems for military aircraft after he left active duty.
Lomax wasn't happy with the education choices for his own children when he became a parent. His young daughter went to a private preschool near Las Vegas that was known for being good at school, but Lomax thought it didn't do enough to encourage creativity and curiosity. At the same time, he noticed that the young engineers he worked with had great grades but lacked critical thinking skills and a sense of being in charge of their own lives.
He built it because he wanted to give his daughters something better. Lomax found Acton Academy, a decentralized network of learner-driven private schools that mirrored Lomax's favorite way of thinking about education. Jeff and Laura Sandefer started Acton Academy in Austin, Texas, more than ten years ago. It now has nearly 300 schools in the U.S. and around the world.
Lomax applied to the Acton Academy affiliate network and was accepted. The network puts a lot of value on entrepreneurial school leaders with strong and varied professional backgrounds, but Lomax couldn't open his school in Nevada.
Lomax told me in a recent interview, "I wasn't qualified to open a private school because I don't have a teaching degree or a license to teach or run a school in the state."
Nevada has some of the strictest rules for private schools in the country, which makes it hard to open a secular private school there. People in Nevada who want to open a private school that isn't religious must have a state administrator's or teacher's license, and teachers in the school must be licensed by the state or have qualifications and teaching experience related to education and teaching. Religious private schools in Nevada that are run by churches or other faith-based organizations are not required to get a license.
Even though Lomax had an MBA and a B.S. from the U.S. Naval Academy, as well as a successful career as a naval officer and flight test engineer, he was not allowed to open a secular private school in the state of Nevada because of licensing rules.
Nevada stands out because it has these licensing rules that make it harder for families to get an education and put limits on the private education sector. If there were less regulation on secular private schools, people like Lomax could open and run their own schools, like they can in most other states. This would give families more options.
"Why do we say that only licensed teachers can start private schools?" John Tsarpalas, the head of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, which works to give families more choices in schools, was asked. "Making it so that only licensed teachers can start private schools seems like a good way to get rid of private schools. Is the real goal to keep the teacher union from taking over schools in Nevada?"
Reducing the need for secular school founders to have a license would not only help more schools open, but it would also fit with the Nevada governor's overall goal of removing regulations.
Governor Joe Lombardo wrote in an executive order that he signed last month, "Nevada's current regulatory structure is too often unfocused and inefficient. It has regulations that are out of date and regulations that are too hard to follow that hurt the state's economy."
The governor signed another executive order to make it easier to get a license for a job. He said, "Nevada has been recognized nationally as having some of the toughest licensing requirements." Even though that order didn't say anything about licensing for school founders, it is a step in the right direction toward getting rid of regulations that make it hard to get a job.
Occupational licensing rules may be the biggest problem with adding more private schools in Nevada, but there are other problems as well. Nevada, like Iowa, has some of the strictest rules for accrediting schools in the country. This makes it hard for new ways of teaching to develop. Seat time laws in the state also make it hard for private schools to have flexible schedules, even though some public school districts in Nevada have switched to a four-day school week. Eliminating occupational licensing requirements and getting rid of these barriers would lead to more education entrepreneurs and more ways for families to learn.
Lomax, for his part, wants Nevada to give secular private schools the same exemptions from occupational licensing that religiously affiliated private schools have. For now, he runs his Life Skills Acton Academy as a tutoring center, which limits its overall reach and impact. His goal is to make learner-driven education more common and easy for more young people in the area to get. "If I could put an Acton Academy in a low-income area on the East Side of Las Vegas, those kids would do great in this setting and with the chances we could give them," said Lomax. "I want to make it easier for more people to learn this way."
Making it easier for entrepreneurs like Lomax to start new, innovative schools will do a lot to increase access.