School Choice

Nevada Residents Get Tax Dollars Back to Pay for Schools of Their Choice

The high priests of the House of Fail do not approve



Nevada residents sick of paying taxes to have their kids taught that learning is all about rigid schedules, mindless discipline, and soul-crushing boredom suddenly have more alternatives than anybody else in the country. On Tuesday, Governor Brian Sandoval signed a bill allowing low-income families and the parents of children with disabilities to get back 100 percent of the statewide average basic expenditure per-pupil (around $5,700) to pay for education expenses. Other families get 90 percent of the basic per-pupil expenditure (around $5,100). The funds will be deposited in Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to be used as needed for authorized purposes.

Assuming the law survives the inevitable legal challenge, many families will have an opportunity to pay for private schools, online classes, and homeschooling material instead of public institutions that don't suit them.

According to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which supports the program:

Funds in the ESA can cover:

  • Tuition and fees at an approved private school
  • Textbooks required for a student at an approved private school
  • Tutoring or other services provided by a tutor or tutoring facility that is a participating entity
  • Tuition and fees for a distance learning program
  • Fees for any national norm-referenced achievement examination, advanced placement or similar examination or standardized examination required for admission to college or university. 
  • Fees for any special instruction or special services if the child is a pupil with a disability
  • Fees and tuition for a college or university in Nevada if that student utilizes those expenses for dual credit
  • Textbooks for a college or university in Nevada, also if that student utilizes those expenses for dual credit
  • Transportation to school up to $750
  • Purchases of curriculum or any supplemental materials
  • Management fees

ESAs currently exist in other states, including my own Arizona (PDF), but are limited—often to special needs students and/or those in failing schools (explicitly failing schools that is, not just public schools ineffectively stumbling through the motions).

To be eligible for an ESA, a Nevada student must have attended a public school for at least 100 days immediately before applying to the program. So current private school students and homeschoolers would have to duck back into the system for a good chunk of a school year in order to qualify.

Confusingly, the law specifies that "A parent may not establish an education savings account for a child who will be homeschooled…" but this appears to be an attempt to address homeschoolers' concerns about the state muscling in. The Nevada Homeschool Network objected that:

the term 'homeschool' is legally defined in Nevada whereby parents take full responsibility for the education of the child…NHN is concerned that alternative education funding programs intending to benefit a student with a government controlled "choice in education" will jeopardize homeschool autonomy from government oversight…

So the law excludes "homeschooled" kids, but it establishes a separate category of "Opt-in" children who are "not enrolled full-time in a public or private school and who receives all or a portion of his or her instruction from a participating entity…" A "parent of a child" can be a "participating entity," and ESAs can be used to purchase curriculum. That means Nevada kids can be homeschooled with ESAs, they just can't be "homeschooled."

I'm happy to clear that up.

The law also states that "nothing…shall be deemed to limit the independence or autonomy of a participating entity," so its authors seem to be making a full-out effort to give families as many options as possible without turning the ESAs into bureaucratic entry points into those options.

The $5,700/$5,100 families receive per-year for their ESAs actually are not the full per-pupil amount Nevada spends on public school inmates. The Census Bureau puts the full annual per-pupil expenditure at $8,339 as of 2013. That means the public schools will hold on to a good chunk of the funds—cash from local and federal sources—for each student who withdraws.

My own experiance is that education can be easily accomplished for the amount of money in play, especially if parents have time and attention to devote to the issue. Just looking at brick-and-mortar private schools, Private School Review reports that "The average private school tuition in Las Vegas, NV is $8,393 for elementary schools and $8,644 for high schools." That's average cost, and I'm comfortable predicting that a state full of families with cash in hand is going to nudge the price point downward while creating a market for new players [Update: As commenter Warren points out, increased demand would usually be expected to at least initially drive prices up. But ESAs are essentially vouchers with a fixed value, and they have the potential to vastly expand the market for private schools that can provide services at specific price point].

I'm paying less than half of that Nevada tuition average for an online private elementary school, though it requires frequent participation on my part as an instructor for my nine-year-old. Friends of mine using the same school for their teenage daughter are able to give her free rein to do her work, and just check in every few days to make sure she's on-track.

Given the wide variety of philosophical approaches, curriculum providers, and free or low-cost sources of online information and instruction, homeschooling (and "homeschooling") can come in at almost any price point, though it does require a commitment by families. The wide-open nature of the Nevada law is likely to empower some very interesting experiments along the lines of constructing education options that suit specific kids.

I'm sure there will be some stumbling along the way, so look for the high priests of the House of Fail public school advocates to point out each and every one as proof that something coercive must be done. They'll be wrong. They always are.

This is a good place to note that I'm leaving Reason as a staffer at the end of this month to devote more time to my son. He's learning in leaps and bounds and, more importantly, enjoying the experience. I want to play a bigger part in encouraging his education, and exposing him to new and cool things without dividing my attention for the demands of an (excellent) full-time job. I'll still write for Reason on a regular basis, and I'm sure that our continuing adventures will be fodder for my contributions.

I could use some of my tax money back for one of those ESAs, too.

NEXT: Steve Chapman on the Liberals' Instant Embrace of Bernie Sanders

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  1. ESAs currently exist in other states, including my own Arizona (PDF), but are limited?often to special needs students and/or those in failing schools

    Even more so than in other states, that is, definitionally, all students in public school in Nevada. We’re ranked 50th in the nation for education.

    That takes a lot of ammo out of the teacher union arsenal as well. It literally can’t get any worse.

    1. What are you talking about?

      You could still drop another 7 slots.

    2. Obviously they need more funding.

    3. The Chicago Public School System laughs at your feeble claims of failing schools!

  2. This is a good place to note that I’m leaving Reason as a staffer at the end of this month to devote more time to my son.

    You’re lucky I am around to have read the post, otherwise, no one would have seen this!

    1. Goddammit, I somehow glossed over that part. That sucks. Always like 2Chilli.

    2. Good luck, JD!

    3. Don’t let the door hit ya where the FSM split ya

    4. Good catch, CPA.

      You will be missed, 2Chilly. Best wishes.

    5. Crap…. I hope 2Chilli will at least guest contribute?

      1. I’ll still write for Reason on a regular basis, and I’m sure that our continuing adventures will be fodder for my contributions.

    6. Sorry to hear that 2 Chilli. You’re good people.

      I hope “devote more time” doesn’t mean putting him back in the Skinner Box.

    7. Good luck JD!

  3. I predict Tony or some drive by retard troll coming to bitch about how this is horrible.

    1. Don’t you know the only conceivable reason someone might want to homeschool is to fill his or her children’s heads full of religious propaganda?


      2. I know that’s what I plan to do if I end up homeschooling.

      3. I homeschool because my eight year old is a wild pain in the arse, and they shoot second graders these days if the teacher gets annoyed.

      4. To be fair, I was homeschooled from 4th grade through high school and turned out a raving asshole. But I suspect the learning environment had little to do with it.

      5. I see no difference between Nevada and ISIS. /future blog by idiot

        1. Or … /soon be posted comment by derp-troll

        2. Adam Lanza for Gov. of Nevada!

  4. It sounds like they’re still robbing me to pay for other people’s kids but I suppose this is a (small) step in the right direction.

    1. It’s along the same lines as social security “privatization”, where they still steal a percentage of your paycheck, but you get to put it into a private retirement account instead of having the government dole it out to current retirees. Not ideal, but an incremental step in the right direction.

      1. Just like state sanctioned gay marriage is a step in the right direction as long as we have any state sanctioned marriage, right? Right?

        1. Yes, giving people a portion of their looted tax money back to use privately for education or retirement is incremental improvement on the way to potentially phasing out those programs in exactly the same way as expanding special privileges for particular romantic couples with no plan to ever reduce the role of the state in that institution. You’ve got it, by jove.

          1. You lost the argument with “special privileges.”

            1. Because married couples don’t get special privileges as a result of the recognition of their relationship by the government? It almost makes you wonder why gay couples are clamoring so hard for the same recognition then.

              This isn’t really a gender or orientation thing. As I said below, it’s a matter of gay marriage not incrementally reducing the role of government in the affected area in the same way that school vouchers or social security privatization might. In the case of gay marriage, the incremental improvement would be equal access to a government institution. More like desegregation of public schools.

            2. I wanted to “marry” my sister in 2005- just before she died- so that someone could collect all that money she paid into Social(ist) (In)Security and we could use the special privilege of expedited probate granted to “married” couples.

              Not one fag spoke out to help a lesbian and her brother…

        2. No – in the gay marriage fight its abolish government control of marriage or nothing!

          1. Gay marriage doesn’t bring us incrementally closer to reducing the role of the state in marriage, so it’s a poor analogy.

    2. Let’s have a riot

      1. A riot is an ugly thing… und, it is just about time that we had one!

      2. We’re not gonna take it…any more.

  5. She is not a moderate. She is an amoral crap weasel that will say and do anything to continue to suckle on the body public. then check all report news this way….

    1. Those clowns in Congress…am I right, guys?

      1. “What a bunch of clowns.”

    2. annonbot was much better

  6. My career may give me the opportunity to move to northern Nevada in the future. This is a small point in the “Carson City may not be so hellish after all” camp.

    1. NV has some good points from a libertarian perspective. Especially if you live outside of the large metro areas. Gun and property rights are good. Very business friendly.

      That having been said, Carson City is pretty small, and being the capital it’s lousy with government parasites. Reno’s right there though, so you can get a respite.

      Don’t come here if you have health problems though. There’s a massive doctor shortage here and the healthcare sucks. My dad just died on the 27th of last month in no small part because of the shit-ass care he received (went 2 months with a persistent UTI after 3 rounds of antibiotics and 2 urine cultures that were supposedly ordered but never received. Went to the hospital with sepsis; had a massive heart attack; died a week later of heart failure). He was on Medicaid, which didn’t do him any favors, but even decent insurance can’t beat a shortage of qualified physicians. Word to the wise.

      1. Sorry about your loss, PM.

        1. Thanks to you as well.

      2. Indeed. I have a similar story about my grandmother, but stretched out over the course of a whole year. My sympathies.

        1. And to you as well.

      3. Sorry, PM. How old was he?

        1. 58. He died a few days shy of his 59th.

  7. “To be eligible for an ESA, a Nevada student must have attended a public school for at least 100 days immediately before applying to the program. So current private school students and homeschoolers would have to duck back into the system for a good chunk of a school year in order to qualify.”

    Future headline: Boost in public-school enrollment shows that Nevada public schools are better than extremists claim

  8. Wait, so Nevada is essentially giving vouchers for all? Holy shit!

    1. The headline reads that way, but it seems it contains disabled or low income provisions.

      1. Disabled and low income folks get a higher percentage back (100%), but everyone qualifies for what amounts to a voucher for 90%.

        1. Except for those “low-income” folks on government assistance who do not pay taxes. As with other things they effectively have a negative tax rate.

          1. “Panem”

            Circenses comes later.

            1. Circenses comes later.

              What’s the Maury Show, chopped liver?

          2. True, and I should have said “…everyone with kids qualifies…” The childless still get the privilege of footing the bill for other people’s kids to get educated.

  9. That’s average cost, and I’m comfortable predicting that a state full of families with cash in hand is going to nudge the price point downward while creating a market for new players.

    Um yeah, because flooding the market with cash drives prices down. That’s the way it works in higher ed and healthcare right?

  10. And the teachers’ union boss just died of apoplexy.

  11. You know what? Fuck ’em.

    I want *my* tax dollars back. The ones I’ve paid over the years to educate *their* children. Can we do that?

    1. I’d even settle for stopping paying for the education of others’ children.

    2. Don’t you remember the Social Contracty you signed?
      You were probably drunk on amnionic fluid at the time – but it’s still a totally valid contract.

    3. wait, so non-parents don’t get the 90-100% back? what in the holy fuck is that shit?

  12. Get government out of the business of schooling entirely.

  13. Well this is really great that Nevada parents are getting money back for their children’s education. But it begs the question: Why did the State of Nevada take it in the first place?

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