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Nevada's Private School Choice Attracting Mostly Wealthier Families, Analysis Finds

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Nevada passed a sweeping private school choice law last summer that basically allows any public school family to use their child's per-pupil allotment from the state to instead attend a private school or home school

The state recently released data on the applications it's received for the program so far, and a Las Vegas Sun analysis found that the majority of applicants hail from Las Vegas' wealthier suburbs, while very few come from the inner city. Clark County Schools, which includes Las Vegas, is the state's largest district and has the most private schools within its boundaries. 

And although Nevada's education savings accounts program is different from a traditional voucher in that families can spend the money on other education-related services besides just private school tuition (for the nitty gritty differences between the two, check out my explainer here), it seems private schools are still driving enrollment in the Nevada program in an interesting way. The Sun's analysis found that the areas with the most ESA applications already have large numbers of students attending private schools:

"Six out of 10 of the ZIP codes with the most ESA applications have existing private school enrollments in the double digits, according to the latest U.S. Census data. The highest is in one swath of Summerlin, where K-12 private school enrollment sits at 27.5 percent. That ZIP code, 89135, also is responsible for the second highest number of ESA applications. That's compared to low-income ZIP codes like 89106, where private school enrollment is only 3.6 percent. There were only 14 applications from that ZIP code."

This brings to mind something Ruben Murillo Jr., the president of the Nevada State Teachers Association, told me back in June when I interviewed him just after the state passed the ESA law: "Being from Las Vegas, I'm a betting man, and I'm going to bet a lot of these private schools are not in inner cities," he said.

(For a more detailed breakdown of enrollment numbers, I encourage you to check out the Las Vegas Sun story here.)

Although a report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, a pro-voucher research and advocacy organization, found that the amount of money available for low-income students through the ESA program, around $5,700, would cover 80 percent of tuition at half of the state's private elementary schools, there's been lingering skepticism that ESAs will really put private education within the reach of poor families.

The state is now defending the ESA program from two separate lawsuits, the first from the ACLU, and the second from a group of parents backed by an advocacy group called Educate Nevada Now.


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