Thursday, June 4, 2015

Vouchers on Steroids For All in Nevada — With Testing

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2015 at 4:30 PM

Arizona created Education Savings Accounts, aka Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, aka vouchers on steroids. We were the first. Then came Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee. Nevada, where Republicans gained control of the legislature and the governorship in January, just passed a similar program. The major difference is, all the other programs are limited to kids who fall into a few categories. Every year the Arizona legislature tries to add more categories to the mix with the ultimate goal of making the voucher program universal, but it has a long way to go. The new Nevada law includes all children, no exceptions.

Other than the universal coverage, the Nevada ESA is pretty much a carbon copy of the Arizona program. The other major difference is, students receiving voucher money have to take yearly standardized tests in English and math and report the results to the state, while in Arizona, no tests are required.

Here's how it will work in Nevada. If a student has been enrolled in public school for 100 consecutive days, that student will be eligible for a voucher. Like the Arizona version, the money from the state goes into a savings account which the parents can spend on approved educational activities, including tuition, books, tests and tutors. The children don't have to be in school. As in Arizona, home schooled children qualify. Any money that's not spent one year rolls over to the next. If it's not all spent by high school graduation, the remainder of the money can be used for college expenses.

How much money does that come to in Nevada? If you're a low income family, your child gets 100 percent of the state funding the public school received. Higher income families get 90 percent of the public school allotment. That comes to about $5,000 per child, though, if it's like Arizona, special needs children who get extra funding in public schools will also get the extra funding in private schools, which can add $10,000 or more to the yearly total.

The major groups behind this law are our own Goldwater Institute — natch, they were behind our ESA law — and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which was begun by Jeb Bush, though he left FEE recently to pretend he's not running run for president. (Fun fact #1: Matthew Ladner, who used to be the education guy at the Goldwater Institute, now is the Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Fun Fact #2: Jeb's most recent book was coauthored by Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute.)

It'll take awhile to see how the Nevada voucher situation works out. There won't be a mass exodus of students from public to private schools. There simply aren't enough schools. And $5,000 a year won't go very far in the private school prep world where tuitions can be three times that high, or more, so it's unlikely Nevada will be seeing a major influx of low income students into the social-register private schools. But for families that have enough money to cover the high private school tuition, if they can just grit their teeth and put their children in one of those awful public schools for 100 days—a little over half a school year—they can get the state to pay $5,000 a year of their private school tuition from then on. 

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