Friday, September 25, 2015

Nevada Education Savings Accounts: 6,000 parents devising 6,000 different ways to teach kids! What could go wrong?

Nevada is a voucher dream come true for conservatives and profit driven privateers a like, who see our kids as exploitable commodities until they're not anymore.

But as a parent, you have to ask, "do you have the time for something this costly, convoluted and crazy?" It's not like you can make up the time if you get it wrong. Oh, and it's costly!!!

Freedom and liberty loving Nevadans can now get their own "education savings account" with $5,700 of taxpayer money in it. Oh, and if the school or customized plan costs more in fees, supplies or transportation, you're on the hook for the rest. Nice...and expensive. 

And what could go wrong giving every parent the power to devise their own educational reform program, mixing and matching classroom time, online courses, home schooling and religious instruction just the way they see fit? 

I'm will enjoy watching all of this unfold from the comfort of Wisconsin, where our state constitution forbids tuition of any kind from being charged in our public schools. I still can't figure out how taxpayer vouchers can be spent at tuition charging private schools, since that turns the voucher into tuition, but that's a whole different topic.

Here's what total privatization looks like, for those who apparently have a whole lot more time than I do staying on top of my own kids, to create their own public school system at home. And you thought making sure they had their homework done was enlightened:    
1. Nevada allows virtually all parents of K-12 students to opt out of public school but use their children’s state education dollars for a customized education, including private or religious schooling, online classes, textbooks, and dual-enrollment college credits.

2. The money goes into an education savings account (ESA), and dollars not spent by the parent in a given year roll over for future spending – until the student finishes high school or opts back into public school.

3. The private and religious schools accepting ESA funds are not prohibited from discriminating based on race, gender or disability ... can use their admissions rules, including competitive pretesting, transcript evaluation and letters of recommendation ... free to select students based on who they decide fit their religious or secular mission, culture and program. Nevada public schools have to educate all children with disabilities and those children whom private and religious schools choose not to admit or decide to remove from school. 

4. 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.

5. The law offers 100 percent of state funding (about $5,700 annually) for students with disabilities or whose families are below 185 percent of the federal poverty level ... For all others, it offers 90 percent. There is only a handful of private schools in Nevada with tuition low enough to be covered by $5,710.

6. Participants will have to account for expenses and take an annual test in math and English that is nationally norm-referenced, meaning their score can be compared with peers around the country. They need not be comparable to Nevada public school tests.  

7. For parents, the appeal is that they can combine online, private, and even some public courses to tailor an education that suits their child. 
And because the $5,700 may not be enough for most students, parents will "self-ration," to save money, and elected officials don't have to work so hard or take responsibility: 
For state policymakers, it’s attractive because parents are incentivized to spend wisely and carry over savings, and that “puts downward pressure on prices,” says Lindsey Burke, an education policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. 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.
But do Americans hate their public schools, or is privatization really about placating a small minority of like minded anti-government voters?
While some opponents might worry about a steady stream of students leaving public schools, that hasn’t been the case in Arizona. Out of about 250,000 students who are eligible, about 1 percent applied for the 2014-15 school year, and currently there are about 1,200 participants, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education told the Monitor.
To put even this in perspective:
Lawmakers in nearly two-dozen states have made education savings accounts or private school scholarships available to families. Yet only 350,000 of the 50 million students in the U.S. are participating. (To put this in perspective, imagine you visit the reigning World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants, for a game this summer and only 290 seats in their 42,000-seat ballpark are filled.)
I mixed and matched stats from these two sources: Christian Science Monitor and DianeRavitch.

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