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“Big Things Don’t Run Well”: A Conversation with NPRI President John Tsarpalas on Education and the State Budget

We recently had the opportunity to speak with John Tsarpalas, the new President of the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI). For 27 years, NPRI has been a major force to advance conservative ideas in the Silver State. But in recent years, NPRI found itself on the losing side in major battles on tax reform and school vouchers.

Tsarpalas explained to us how NPRI is moving on, despite these recent setbacks.

Why are these conservatives upset with Nevada Republicans?

In 2015, Nevada had a Republican Governor and a Republican-majority Legislature. Conservatives had high hopes for tax cuts and deregulation. Instead, Sandoval and a bipartisan coalition of legislators settled upon a revenue raising tax reform deal.

Still, conservatives declared victory with the party-line passage of legislation to create the ESA school voucher program. But after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled against the original funding mechanism last year, Governor Brian Sandoval (R) and the Legislature agreed to a budget deal with no ESA school voucher funding this year.

Against this backdrop, NPRI is doubling down on its anti-tax message… And calling out the Republican politicians who broke ranks with them.

“How is this subsidizing? The ESAs were for anyone.”
– John Tsarpalas, NPRI

On vouchers, Tsarpalas acknowledged, “Yes, we were disappointed that it didn’t happen.” At his speech to the full Conservative Leadership Conference, Tsarpalas called out “RINOs” (or “Republicans in Name Only”) who supported tax increases and agreed to the voucher-free budget deal.

Nevada Policy Research Institute President John Tsarpalas and Nevada State Controller Ron Knecht address the Conservative Leadership Conference in Las Vegas.

Posted by Nevada Forward on Saturday, September 16, 2017

Tsarpalas provided a full-throated defense of school voucher policy. When asked about the majority of ESA applications coming from wealthy zip codes, Tsarpalas denied that school vouchers are meant to subsidize private schools for the rich. “How is this subsidizing? The ESAs were for anyone.”

Tsarpalas then explained how ESAs were designed to be open-ended. He stated ESAs could have been used to pay for private school, tutoring, textbooks, and/or technology. This was actually another concern of voucher critics, as ESAs could have been used to divert public funds to private schools that don’t adhere to state anti-discrimination laws, or to activities that had nothing to do with children’s education at all.

“Government doesn’t run well.”
– John Tsarpalas, NPRI

Why are vouchers so attractive to Tsarpalas, and to the conservatives who support the mission of NPRI? For Tsarpalas, it’s simple: “Government doesn’t run well.” He sees school vouchers as a way for parents to extract their kids from public schools, and as a way for the state to divert public education dollars away from “government schools”.

 

We asked about the common refrain from public education advocates, one that even Governor Sandoval finally admitted in 2015: That the State of Nevada does not invest enough in its public schools. Tsarpalas didn’t hesitate to criticize the Governor: “Sandoval fell into the same thinking, the same old-school trap, that it’s about more money.”

And finally, CCSD

Tsarpalas also addressed the recent news coming from the Clark County School District (CCSD). While he’s supportive of reorganization, Tsarpalas would have liked the state to go further in breaking up CCSD entirely. “Breaking up the school district into smaller districts might be a better idea. Why? You would actually get more competition.”

Once again, NPRI refuses to back down on its mission of shrinking the public sector. For Tsarpalas, “Big things don’t run well.” Regardless of how small and cheap Nevada’s state government actually is, NPRI will always find a way to argue that it needs to be smaller and cheaper. One can say plenty of things about NPRI and its anti-tax ideology, including that NPRI is always consistent in adhering to this ideology.

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