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RESEARCH SHOWS ESAs WILL NOT HELP NEVADA SCHOOL CHILDREN
April 22, 2016
The Nevada Supreme Court will soon make a decision of historic importance to the state’s public school children. The Court will decide whether to uphold a lower court’s blockage of Nevada’s school voucher program (Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs) on the grounds that the program is unconstitutional.
To assist the Court in its decision, the Nevada
State Education Association (NSEA) and the National
Education Association (NEA) recently filed an amicus curiae – or "friend
of the court" – brief thoroughly
reviewing the research on voucher programs similar to ESAs.
The research shows:
- Vouchers do not improve educational outcomes for participants.
- Competition from vouchers does not improve public schools.
- Several design features are important for minimizing harm from
- ESAs include none of these features and threaten to harm Nevada
public schools and the state's students.
PROGRAMS DO NOT IMPROVE EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES FOR PARTICIPANTS: Despite many independent studies of voucher programs across the
country, there is no clear evidence that vouchers boost student
achievement. For example, a 2015 report by
the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found "a large
proportion of the most rigorous studies suggest that being awarded
a voucher has an effect that is statistically indistinguishable
FROM VOUCHERS DOES NOT IMPROVE PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Voucher proponents argue that if public schools have to compete
for students and funding, they will respond like free market
businesses and improve their "product." Yet, studies of districts
throughout the country show no significant test score gains in
school districts with voucher programs. In fact, a 2007 RAND
Corporation study of
eight states with voucher programs found a "near complete absence
of positive competitive effects" on public schools.
Voucher proponents also argue that, since "funding follows the
student," public schools are on a level playing field in competing
with private schools. But voucher funding is based on average per-pupil
costs. Public schools must serve all students, including
those whose needs cost more than the average. Private schools
participating in voucher programs like ESAs may reject students
who need costly special services; charge tuition much higher
than voucher value; and charge fees for transportation, books,
meals etc. This gives private schools a distinct competitive
advantage over public schools.
DESIGN FEATURES ARE IMPORTANT FOR MINIMIZING HARM FROM VOUCHER
PROGRAMS: Researchers have been unable to find evidence
of voucher programs improving student outcomes, but scholars
agree that certain program features are crucial to minimizing
the harmful effects on schools and students. The RAND
Corporation and the NBER recommend that programs:
- Target vouchers to at-risk students: All voucher programs
currently operating in the U.S. prioritize low-income and special
needs students. The goal of targeting these student populations
is to ensure that vouchers do not worsen the already significant
opportunity gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Nevada's
ESA program does not target at-risk students.
open admissions: Giving vouchers to at-risk students
doesn't guarantee that participating private schools will accept
those students. When private schools are free to choose only
the most advantaged students, sometimes called "cream-skimming," the
result is an even more unequal education system, where children
with the greatest need of supports are excluded from the "choice" program. Nevada's
ESA program does not require open admission, nor does it prohibit
excluding students on the basis of at-risk status, religion,
academic ability or sexual orientation.
Incentives for Private Schools to Admit Special Needs Students: The higher costs associated with educating special
needs students can deter schools from accepting these children.
This results in a disproportionate number of special needs
students remaining in public schools, with the additional costs
of educating those students also falling on public schools. Nevada's
ESA program offers no financial subsidies or other incentives
to encourage private schools to admit special needs students.
Participating Private Schools to Set Tuition at Exactly Voucher
Value: Most private schools charge
significantly more tuition than the dollar value of a voucher.
This, plus the additional costs of transportation, uniforms,
etc. can effectively exclude low-income families from using
school vouchers, making the educational opportunity gap between
advantaged and disadvantaged students even greater. Nevada's
ESA program sets no limit on participating private school
tuition. Furthermore, pending regulations would allow families
whose children already attend private school and have never
attended public school to receive the $5,100 voucher, regardless
of family wealth.
- Ensure ALL Parents
Receive Clear and Timely Information About Voucher Options: Researchers warn that an information
gap, where more affluent, engaged parents are better informed
about voucher programs and deadlines, will result in unequal
participation. Outreach to lower income families and those
with limited English can make for more equitable participation
and minimize the harmful effects of "cream-skimming." Nevada's
ESA program has no provision for outreach to low income or
ELL students. Although over half of Nevada public school
students are low income, an analysis by Educate
Nevada Now found that only 28,
or 7%, of early ESA applicants live in low income areas,
compared with 3,342, or 80%, who live in areas with household
incomes above the state median.
CONCLUSION: ESAs WILL HARM NEVADA PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND THE STATE'S STUDENTS
Although researchers find no evidence that vouchers improve participant
student outcomes or public school quality, some proponents still argue that
implementation is worthwhile, saying vouchers do no harm. But the ESA program,
even more than other voucher programs currently operating in the U.S., IS likely
to do harm.
The ESA program includes none of the design features scholars recommend
to minimize harm to public schools and their highest need students. No other
voucher program currently operating in the United States is so completely
lacking in these safeguards. Therefore, to find a predictor of the impact
of ESAs, researchers must look to Chile. For over 20 years, Chile has implemented
a program that mirrors the ESA program in almost every aspect. Studies show
that while private school enrollment increased dramatically, student achievement overall declined,
with the steepest decline in public schools and the greatest impact on the
most vulnerable students. This is exactly the outcome researchers predict
when they caution against programs that draw the most advantaged, high-achieving
students away from public schools. Nevada's ESA program includes no provisions
for preventing this harm to public schools and the students they serve.
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