In a July 14, 2015 press release, Educate Nevada Now! (ENN!) explains the
negative impacts that are foreseeable from a new Nevada law. Here is the
Las Vegas, NV - Proponents of the new "education
savings account" (ESA) law, enacted in June by the Nevada Legislature,
are touting ESAs as beneficial for public school children. On closer
inspection, it is clear that ESA's, the transfer of potentially
large amounts of public funding to pay for tuition at private and
religious schools and other entities, poses a grave threat to the
450,000 children enrolled in Nevada public schools.
The new law requires the State Treasurer to transfer public school
funding to an ESA for any student who leaves Nevada's public schools.
These transferred public funds are similar to a "voucher" that
can be used to pay for all or part of private or religious school
tuition. But the Nevada ESA law goes beyond private school vouchers,
allowing the public funds deposited into an ESA to pay for an unlimited
array of services, fees and other expenses provided by any for-profit
or non-profit "participating entity."
The ESA law is intended and designed to divert millions of taxpayer
dollars from public schools to pay for private and religious schooling.
Moreover, it could support an unlimited variety of other services,
with little or no accountability for education outcomes and the
use of those dollars.
ESAs will impact Nevada's public school children in three critical
- Reducing public school funding and resources,
- Increasing student segregation and isolation in public schools,
- Limiting accountability to little or none for the private schools
and other entities accepting ESA funds.
The ESA law requires the "statewide average basic support per
pupil" --- $5,100 per student and $5,710 for low-income, and students
with disabilities --- be deposited into each ESA from local district
budgets, a process that will divert, over time, substantial resources
from the public schools. Studies have shown that Nevada substantially
underfunds K-12 public education. For example, calculations by
the Guinn Center show that Nevada K-12 funding is over $3,000 per
pupil, or $1.5 billion, below the amount determined adequate by
a 2015 education cost study. A recent ENN analysis shows that,
even after the Legislature increased funding in the biennium budget,
most Nevada school districts, including Clark County, are once
again facing shortfalls in their operating budgets for the 2015-16
ESAs will trigger an outflow of funds from already inadequate
school district budgets, beginning in the 2015-16 school year.
This loss of funding to ESAs will further impede districts' ability
to provide sufficient qualified teachers, reasonable class size,
English language instruction, and gifted and talented programs.
Furthermore, services for students academically at-risk and special
education, will undermine the opportunity for public school students
to achieve and graduate ready for college or the workforce.
As children leave public schools with ESA funds, some of the costs
to educate those students, will leave with them. But, ESAs will
cause a deficit for the local district, given the fixed costs of
operating the school system for all children. As ESAs take funds
out of the school system, the cost of educating the remaining students
-- e.g., providing teachers, maintaining buildings, offering rigorous
curriculum -- must still be covered by the district. As
more ESAs are established, the budget deficits in the districts
will increase, resulting in fewer teachers, larger class sizes,
and cuts to gifted and talented, art and music, and other essential
ESAs also create instability in district and school budgets. Districts
will not know how many students will exit and how much money will
be taken out of the budget during the school year. This unpredictability
will make it difficult to manage public school budgets, as local
administrators won't know how many teachers and staff to hire,
whether to fix buildings in disrepair, or how to allocate funds
to provide sufficient resources to schools throughout the school
year. It is also difficult for districts to increase or lower the
teacher workforce during the school year, as hiring is done in
the spring and summer before the start of the school year. Teacher
vacancies and reliance on unqualified substitutes -- already a
major problem -- could rise, impeding the recruitment and retention
of effective teachers.
Student Isolation and Segregation
ESAs, by design, will increase segregation of students by disability,
economic status, and other factors. The ESA law does not require
the private and religious schools and other entities accepting
ESA funds to educate students with special needs, does not prohibit
discrimination, and does not ban selective admissions practices,
such as pre-testing. Similar to the current record of Nevada charter
schools, ESA schools will serve disproportionately fewer students
with disabilities, students in poverty, and students learning English,
than many public schools serving the same communities and neighborhoods.
Because the ESA per student amount does not cover the full cost
of tuition at private and religious schools, families must have
the personal means to cover any remaining tuition. This will also
include the cost of fees, uniforms, books, transportation and other
expenses associated with private and religious schooling.
The ESA law has no limit on the income of households that can
obtain ESA funds. There is only a handful of private schools in
Nevada with tuition low enough to be covered by $5,100 or $5,710,
the annual ESA amount. ESAs are designed to be a "subsidy" by more
affluent families who can already afford to send their children
to selective private and religious schools. Conversely, ESAs are
insufficient for students from low-income families, and those who
need more costly English language instruction or special education
services. At-risk students will stay in the public schools, therefore,
increasing the segregation of students based on race, socio-economic
status, disability, English language proficiency, and other factors
in those schools.
The ESA law is vague, allowing ESA funds to pay for tuition, services,
fees and other expenses, not just to private schools, but to any "participating
entity," including for-profit businesses. ESAs can be used not
only for private or religious schools, but also online education,
a tutor or tutoring facility, or, as one lawmaker testified, reimbursement
for home schooling. The law also allows ESAs to buy textbooks and
curriculum, pay for transportation, and even to reimburse financial
institutions to manage the voucher "savings account" itself. Any
ESA funds not spent on K-12 can be reserved for post-secondary
tuition or fees.
In enacting this law, the Legislature cites no evidence that private
and religious schools, online schooling -- or the unlimited array
of services offered by for-profit and non-profit providers -- paid
for by ESA funds, will produce better education outcomes for Nevada's
public school children.
The ESA law has virtually none of the accountability measures
imposed by the Legislature on public schools. The law requires
student tests in math and English language arts, but the tests
can be any "norm-referenced achievement exams." They need not be
comparable to Nevada public school tests. There is no requirement
that private school teachers be qualified or offer a curriculum
based on Nevada common core standards. The law provides no way
to know whether students are achieving sufficient outcomes, and
there is no protection for parents and students from being victimized
by low-performing, under-performing and non-performing schools
or other "participating entities."
The ESA law has no meaningful mechanism for state oversight or
review, let alone the type of rigorous fiscal and education standards
public schools must adhere to. For example, there is no mechanism
for investigating and closing schools or sanctioning "participating
entities" that fail to properly educate students.
Unlike Nevada public schools, the private and religious schools
accepting ESA funds are not prohibited from discriminating based
on race, gender or disability. Although they will receive funds
appropriated by the Legislature for public education, the private
institutions, businesses and other organizations that participate
in the ESA program are exempt from the most basic protections that
prevent discrimination of disadvantaged and vulnerable student
Finally, the private for-profit or non-profit education providers
that accept ESA funds can use their admissions rules, including
competitive pretesting, transcript evaluation and letters of recommendation.
These schools and entities are free to select students based on
who they decide fit their religious or secular mission, culture
and program. In contrast, Nevada public schools have a constitutional
duty to educate all children, including those with disabilities
and other special needs, and those children whom private and religious
schools choose not to admit or decide to remove from school.
ESAs Harm Public Schools and Students
ESAs, by design, will weaken Nevada's public education system
and undermine the efforts of public schools teachers, administrators
and parents to improve outcomes for all students, including at-risk
children. Over half of Nevada public school students are economically
disadvantaged. Nevada has the largest percentage of English language
learner students in the nation. ESAs will further concentrate and
isolate those students in the public schools while taking away
critical resources necessary for a quality education.
ESAs are a serious setback for Nevada public schools and students.
ESAs will erode already inadequate funding and budgets, reduce
essential education resources, widen achievement gaps and increase
segregation. Most important, ESAs will impede progress in ensuring
that all students have a meaningful opportunity for a sound basic
education as guaranteed by the Nevada Constitution.
School Districts Will Face Significant Budget Deficits
For more information contact: Stavan
Corbett, Director of Outreach, ENN! at 702.657.3114