(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Early applications for the Nevada ESA program show that a majority of applicants thus far come from well to do areas, and 21% of applicants thus far qualify for the higher amount for low-income families.
Maybe Howard Fuller was right? Nope- at least not yet. Let’s keep clear of the panic button.
The program does not commence until January, and so these applicants represent the earliest of early adopters. Efforts have commenced to raise awareness of the program in low-income areas, but such efforts take time. Nevada’s private school sector has a small footprint and it should not shock anyone that most private schools are located in relatively affluent areas- which will impact interest in the program.
It’s worth noting that many suburban Nevada schools have overcrowding issues, and spots opening in suburban districts create open-enrollment transfer opportunities for non-residents. Most important of all- NVESA is not a fire it and forget it program. We will need the efforts of both philanthropists and innovators in order to increase the supply of private school space in under-served areas. Sadly the two lawsuits attacking the program will likely slow this process to the detriment of low-income families. Moreover parents have the ability to pursue education outside of private schools under NVESA, but again, we should expect this to unfold incrementally over time.
NVESA is not a magic bullet, and it will not instantly transform education, dry every tear or solve every problem. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
A marathon? I wish. Then we might be able to see the finish line. I think ultra-marathon might be more fitting.
We are now in the phase of the race where a program will be attacked if those participating are too white or pay too much in taxes.
This leaves for another day the anchor lap, the time when a progam is judged based on whether it works, i.e., whether it raises levels of academic achievement and improves the attainment of students on leaving school.
The critical role of early adopters is the most important reason Howard Fuller’s nonsense can’t be allowed to derail the movement. Early adopters will always be high SES – they have more risk tolerance, better information, etc.
In the early days of the choice movement many who favor universal choice made a tactical decision that now haunts us. We legitimized an argument that choice programs should be targeted to low-income (and thus mostly minority) families. This was a foot-in-the-door strategy that “worked” for a few years. Wisconsin’s “statewide” school choice program illustrates the strategy’s ultimate failure. The program is limited to low-income families. From Scott Walker on down there are few if any elected conservatives who disagree. The broad eligibility framework of the Nevada program creates the potential for a breakthrough.
ESA applicant income disparity not what it seems
is senior editorial writer for the Review-Journal. His column appears Sunday in the Viewpoints/Opinion section.
Follow on: Glenn Cook
By Glenn Cook
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Households from higher-income ZIP codes are applying for Nevada’s new Education Savings Accounts in greater numbers than families in low-income ZIP codes.
Which makes perfect sense at this point — but not for the reasons you might think.
In a story in today’s print edition of the Review-Journal (first published at reviewjournal.com late Thursday), Neal Morton and Adelaide Chen break down the roughly 3,100 applications for the state’s groundbreaking, nearly universal school choice initiative by ZIP code and household income.
It’s an important analysis because ESAs were structured to help all Nevadans exercise school choice, and the public needs to know how the program is working. Proponents of ESAs asserted during the 2015 Legislature that the program, far from being a private school subsidy for the rich, would help middle- and lower-income students escape chronically underperforming public schools. ESA opponents countered that the program primarily would benefit upper-middle to upper-class families because, unlike lower-income households, wealthier parents have the discretionary income to cover whatever private school costs ESAs can’t meet.
Morton and Chen found that early enrollment in ESAs is tilting more toward wealthier parts of town than poor neighborhoods. Half of the applications list an address in a ZIP code with a median household income among state’s top 40 percent of earners. Meanwhile, 10.7 percent of applications are from households with median incomes in the bottom 40 percent of earners.
ESA opponents pounced on the findings as a told-you-so lesson that ESAs, which allow parents to withdraw their children from public school and gain control of the roughly $5,000 in annual state funding that supported their enrollment, don’t benefit the middle and lower classes.
“It’s what we expected,” said Sylvia Lazos, policy director for Educate Nevada Now, an organization behind one of two lawsuits that seek to quash ESAs. “With every program of this nature, it’s just the reality that affluent and high-middle-income families are always in the best position to take advantage.”
The affluent and high-middle-income families are indeed in the best position to take advantage of ESAs — for right now. But that’s going to change in a few months.
As of today, not a single dollar has moved from the state treasury into an ESA. Final regulations won’t be approved until later this month. And the first distributions aren’t expected to be made until February at the soonest and April at the latest. A higher-income household is more likely to be able to afford to remove a child from public school now and immediately enroll in private school, distance learning or an alternative education program, then wait until late winter or spring for ESA subsidies to help pay the bill. A lower-income household is less likely to be able to afford any alternative educational program without an immediate subsidy.
Thousands of families are waiting until they can collect an immediate ESA distribution before applying for an account and exiting public schools. ESA enrollment will surge across the socioeconomic spectrum in the late spring and summer, once funds can be quickly obtained.
Regardless, a deeper dive into the early enrollment numbers shows already strong middle- to lower-class participation. The Review-Journal analysis found a majority of applicants have a household income of $64,908 or less. In a state with a median household income of slightly more than $51,000, that’s not rich by any definition. And 21 percent of ESA applicants reported earning less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, qualifying them for a higher ESA subsidy. Those are amazing numbers.
It’s funny how ESA foes will argue that costly new public school initiatives need time to work. Expanded English Language Learner and early education programs in urban schools will be given years and years to show gains. But if ESAs aren’t delivering quite as advertised in their first months of existence? Kill them!
Nevadans need school choice. And school choice needs a chance.
— Glenn Cook (email@example.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 10 a.m. on “Live and Local — Now!” with Kevin Wall on KBET 790 AM.