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Brookings Senior Fellow Discusses Education, Birth Control

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Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Ron Haskins voiced his support for the Nevada School Voucher Program at a press conference at UNLV on October 1.

“I support it, but there are issues with the Nevada law that are definitely going to cause problems,” said Haskins. “Some of them are inevitable and it’d be almost impossible to avoid with having to do any kind of big transition.”

The voucher program would allow parents to move their children from public schools into any private school of their choice, with about $5,000 to pay for tuition, transportation and books. The money that will be used to provide for these vouchers will come directly from taxpayer dollars.

The program is the subject of a lawsuit between Nevada and the ACLU. The American Civil Liberties Union claims the program is unconstitutional because according to Nevada’s constitution, “public funds of any kind or character” cannot be spent for sectarian purposes.

“We do need to preserve the separation of church and state,” said Haskins. “If we could figure out a way to do [the program] without too seriously violating the separation of church and state, I think we should do it.”

Haskins suggested a few improvements to the voucher program, namely one in which parents would be allowed to choose whichever school they wanted to send their child to instead of limiting the choices to private schools. He bases his suggestion on high school choice, in which high schools provide different programs and experiences to attract more students.

“A very important characteristic is choice within the system,” said Haskins. “They could be a charter school or they could be a public school.”

Haskins also reprimanded Congress for its recent attempts to eliminate federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

“Defunding the whole thing is not a good idea,” said Haskins, noting that as a Republican this view would not be popular among some in his party. “It’s not worth it, to me, to punish Planned Parenthood and simultaneously punish women who get useful services from Planned Parenthood.”

Haskins expressed strong support for birth control and abstinence education. According to research done by the Brookings Institution, birth control is a large factor in social mobility for women. However he recognized that, according to studies, abstinence education doesn’t have a large impact on sexual activity, when a teenager has sex for the first time and how many sexual partners a teenager may have, despite the United States reducing the birth rate among teenagers overall.

“It is unfortunate that we got down to this debate about should it be birth control or should it be abstinence education,” said Haskins. “It should be both and many other things beside.”

Haskins believes that abstinence education should be kept at the local level and he would not require it in schools.

“I certainly would want to leave this up to the local level,” said Haskins. “If I were at the local level, I would argue for broad programs and I would make the point that you can send a strong abstinence message and you can convince teenagers.”

The broad programs Haskins speaks of would involve teenagers in community service.

“They also encourage better achievement in the schools, so it’s a much broader program,” said Haskins. “They give them meaningful things to do in their lives, like tutor young kids, work in the food kitchen, that kind of thing.”

Haskins spent a week on campus as a visiting scholar at Brookings Mountain West, which is headquartered at UNLV. He is considered an expert on educational issues and co-directs the Brookings Center on Children and Families in Washington D.C.


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