A few weeks ago a pro-school privatization organization, Institute for Justice, announced a lawsuit against the State of Nevada over the impact of AB 458 to private school vouchers recipients, scholarship granting organizations and businesses receiving tax incentives.
Though pro-voucher advocates are framing the suit as “saving vouchers,” in reality, the voucher program did not lose funding. The controversy over some students losing their scholarships is actually the result of a single scholarship granting organization interpreting a law passed this legislative session (AB 458) differently than all other scholarship organizations. Certain families who went through this organization for their voucher funds were the only ones whose funds were not renewed, leaving those students in limbo as the law’s purpose is clarified by the State.
To be clear, AB 458 did NOT cancel funding for the voucher program but only ended the requirement that funding for the controversial program grow by 10% each year. Given that growth in public education funding often struggles just to keep up with inflation (approximately 2%), automatically growing a voucher program with scant accountability and poor results just doesn’t make sense.
Businesses are also suing on the claim that they would not be able to increase their contributions to vouchers because there is no increase in tax incentives. However ,they could choose to continue supporting private school tuition through donations without having to receive any incentive if it’s a cause that they deem so critical.
Ultimately, the courts will decide if the legal argument holds water, but the policy and evidence behind limiting the program’s growth is sound.
Voucher programs don’t work – both in Nevada and nationwide. The latest results from the Nevada Department of Education showed that more voucher recipient scores decreased than increased year-to-year, mirroring similar trends across the nation. For example, Louisiana has seen consistent abysmal results – with voucher recipients performing worse and numerous private schools fraught with poor school ratings, fraud, and cheating scandals.
Lack of accountability in voucher programs has continued to raise red flags. Nevada private schools have no requirement that their teachers be licensed. An analysis by ENN found that of the schools that made the information available, less than 50 percent of teachers were ever credentialed in the state of Nevada, while some schools had no staff with Nevada licenses.
A look at the number of teachers who are licensed at private schools that have Opportunity Scholarship students enrolled. **This chart only includes data from schools who make staff information publicly available. Numbers exclude theology teachers and support staff.**
And the overwhelming lack of accountability – uniform testing, treatment of students with unique needs (private schools are less likely to accept students with an IEP), anti-discrimination, and other issues closely monitored in our public schools – means poor outcomes and underqualified staff may only be the tip of the iceberg. North Carolina, for example, is grappling with testing issues, discrimination against LGBTQ students, and questionable academic content (with one popular textbook claiming the KKK was fighting to protect morality and slaves were treated well by their slave owners). One can argue that teacher quality, curriculum, or treatment of students is the prerogative of these schools because they are private, but if private schools are now operating using public taxpayer dollars, we must demand more.
Ultimately efforts would be better spent advocating for increased dollars for our public schools to ensure all our students have access to a quality education regardless of religion, sexual preference, gender, race or income.
To learn more about national efforts to fight private school vouchers, check out the new Public Funds Public Schools campaign supported by Education Law Center, Southern Poverty Law Center and the SPLC Action Fund.