NO on ESAs: Private schools lack transparency and accountability

by Margaret Wagner

Implementing vouchers (ESAs) in the state of Nevada is a troubling concept for many reasons. As an 18-year veteran teacher in the Clark County School District, I have spent my career working within the education system and have had to learn to do more with less each year to educate my students under increasing oversight and accountability. If vouchers are implemented in the state of Nevada, public school teachers will be expected to continue to do more with even fewer financial resources.

As the system functions now, public schools are funded at the state level on a per pupil basis, and every public school has to accept the students zoned for that school, no matter if they do not speak English or if they have a disability, because every child is legally entitled to a free and public education. The students are counted at a point early in the school year, and schools receive funding based on that count. Students come and go throughout the year in the public schools, often leaving one school to enroll in another school in the district. If a student is expelled from a school, which is a very difficult process, the student will be enrolled in a different school within the district.

The point is, the money for each student stays in the local public system, even as students come and go in individual schools. As one student leaves a school, another student will show up to use the funding of the student who left. The problem with the voucher system is that the private schools can accept the student at the beginning of the year, receive the funding from the state for the student, and then expel the student arbitrarily for a minor infraction that violates the rules of the private school. The student will then be forced to return to the public school system, which did not receive the money for the student but will be expected to educate that student without funding. What is stopping the private schools from accepting students and then expelling them and keeping the voucher money? The money stays in the private school and will not benefit any other students and ultimately increases the per pupil funding of students in the private school and decreases the financial support of the student in the public school.

A second problem with using vouchers to fund private and home schools is the accountability of how that money is spent and the ROI of that money in the form of student progress. Private schools do not have to report how they use the funds they receive to educate their students because of the private funding of the institution. If students begin using public money to fund their private school educations, then the private schools should be required to report how they are using the public money, the same as how public schools are required to be transparent with their budgets.

In addition, student progress in private schools is not required to be reported to the state, whereas the public schools are required by law to assess and report the growth of their students on various standardized assessments. As a taxpayer, I want to know if the money my taxes provide to send a student to a private school is being used productively. The fact that my tax money is contributing to religious education is an issue that does not seem to matter to our state’s judicial system, but the fact that the money may be spent on ineffective educational programs is a problem. If public tax dollars are being spent on private educations, then those private institutions that accept state-funded vouchers are responsible for reporting the academic performance of those students who benefit from the public money.

Ultimately, there are many problems with implementing vouchers in the state of Nevada, and the loss of funding to public schools and lack of transparency and accountability required of private schools are only two. If the government is going to ram through the use of vouchers, then the schools that accept them need to be held to the same standards of educating all students and transparency and accountability that the public institutions are held to.