The creation of Nevada’s first school choice programs could be considered the “tipping point” for the private school choice movement.
With legislators creating both the Educational Choice Scholarship Program and the Education Savings Accounts (ESA) program this year, Nevada became the 26th state to enact a private school choice program. Most important, the state’s ESA program is by far one of the largest school choice programs created in terms of eligibility rate, with more than nine out of 10 K–12 students in the state made eligible.
Since the enactment of Nevada’s new programs, people from parents to journalists have been asking: How much room does Nevada’s private education sector have to accommodate those students, and how far will the programs’ funding go?
According to the schools that responded to the Friedman Foundation’s survey, half of the private schools in Nevada charge approximately $6,400 or less per student for grades K–5, $7,200 or less for grades 6–8, and $8,100 or less for grades 9–12.
Those are just two of many data points analyzed in Exploring Nevada’s Private Education Sector, my latest report and the third installment in the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice’s School Survey Series. The report synthesizes information collected in two unique surveys of Nevada private schools: one conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, the other by the Friedman Foundation.
Cost of Schooling
We know that the amount of funding for an ESA is projected to be around $5,100, and the maximum amount for a tax-credit scholarship is $7,775, but how does that compare to what Nevada private schools charge and what public schools spend per student?
According to the schools that responded to the Friedman Foundation’s survey, half of the private schools in Nevada charge approximately $6,400 or less per student for grades K–5, $7,200 or less for grades 6–8, and $8,100 or less for grades 9–12. We are reporting the median amount here, rather than the average, because there are multiple outliers at either end of the spectrum. For instance, the minimum tuition charged at any level is $10, and the maximum tuition charged at any level is $23,100. Although, there are outliers, including a few schools that mainly serve students with special needs.
This means the projected ESA amount would cover at least 80 percent of tuition and fees for K–5 students attending half of the private schools in Nevada, at least 70 percent for grades 6–9, and at least 63 percent for grades 9–12. The maximum tax-credit scholarship amount, however, would cover all tuition and fees for at least half of the private schools for grades K–8 and nearly all of the tuition and fees for grades 9–12.
By comparison, Nevada public schools charged $8,339 per student in 2012–13, the most recent publicly available data. That shows there is a clear gap between the public per student funding amount and the projected ESA funding amount, which could affect some parents’ ability to access all of the educational services their children need.
It is important to note that more than 80 percent of the state’s private schools for which tuition data are available also provide some form of tuition assistance for families of lesser means. Half of those schools provide tuition assistance to at least 13 percent of their student populations, and, of the students that do receive tuition assistance, half of those students receive $1,050 or more in tuition assistance from their schools. That extra tuition assistance could go a long way in bridging funding gaps that some parents are likely to experience.
Tuition Assistance Provided by Nevada Private Schools (2014–15)
|Percentage of Students Receiving Financial Assistance (Including Discounts)|
|Tuition Assistance Per Student|
Availability of Seats
Slightly more than 20,000 K–12 students attend private schools in Nevada, and only 10 states can claim fewer private school students, according to the USDOE. For some context, private school attendance counts range from slightly fewer than 2,000 in Wyoming to more than 500,000 in California. But as many of us know, it is fairly uncommon for a school to consistently have every seat filled in every classroom. To get a better gauge on the number of open seats across the state, we asked private school principals and administrators their enrollment and capacity figures.
We found there were at least 3,720 open seats in Nevada private schools in 2014–15. We used the proportion of private school students represented by the respondent schools to project how many seats might be available in private schools that did not respond to our survey. Those calculations resulted in our projection of 6,600 open seats for K–12 students in 2014–15. And those numbers were reported before the ESA and tax-credit scholarship programs were enacted. Anecdotally, we know some of the schools that responded to our survey are considering adding more classroom space in the wake of the ESA and tax-credit scholarship programs’ creation.
Some have asked what might happen if more than 453,000 students are eligible for Nevada school choice programs with only enough open seats to accommodate 1.5 percent of them.
The marketplace will most likely adjust for private school supply to meet demand. Empirical research on the supply-side reaction to school choice programs is not yet available, but anecdotal evidence shows many private school providers have responded to demand created by choice programs in their areas by expanding their schools and/or applying to create new ones. Even parents have come together in states like Arizona to create their own school that will address the needs of their children. The flexibility of ESAs also allows parents to use their education funds on learning services outside a traditional school or classroom, which opens even more doors for families.
As the demand for school choice grows in Nevada, follow-up analyses will be needed to better understand the capacity of the private school sector. Exploring Nevada’s Private Education Sector is meant to be a measure of where the education marketplace stands before it adjusts to the demand created by Nevada’s new private school choice programs—a private school supply baseline, if you will.
Stay tuned to our analysis and coverage of Nevada’s changing education landscape and school choice developments across the country by following our blog here at edchoice.org and by following us on Twitter @edchoice.