Now, A Warning? SB 302 and the Privatization of NV Public Schools

vulture 2 It’s not like we weren’t warned.  Nevada’s SB 302, the notorious ESA, is a give-away to the few at the educational expense of the many.  State Senator Scott Hammond’s privatization bill is a GOP wet dream. It passed the Republican controlled Assembly on a 25-17 vote, and the Republican controlled Senate by 11-8. [NVLeg] Nevada Senators Atkinson, Denis, Ford, Kihuen, Manendo, Parks, Spearman, and Woodhouse had the foresight to vote “no.”  They were right. The law is not getting rave reviews:

“The ESA law requires the “statewide average basic support per pupil” — $5,100 per student and $5,710 for low-income, and students with disabilities — be deposited into each ESA from local district budgets, a process that will divert, over time, substantial resources from the public schools. Studies have shown that Nevada substantially underfunds K-12 public education. For example, calculations by the Guinn Center show that Nevada K-12 funding is over $3,000 per pupil, or $1.5 billion, below the amount determined adequate by a 2015 education cost study. A recent ENN analysis shows that, even after the Legislature increased funding in the biennium budget, most Nevada school districts, including Clark County, are once again facing shortfalls in their operating budgets for the 2015-16 school year.” [EJO]

But, but, but… “we increased funding for education…” Yes, I could opine that if I gave nothing to charity last year and a dollar this year then  my charity went up by 100%.  That doesn’t mean that the funding was adequate in the first place.  Nor does the law pass the Golden Rule Test: Do the Greatest Good for the Greatest Number.

There are 459,172 Nevada youngsters enrolled in K-12 schools, 318,040 were enrolled in Clark County, and 63,108 in Washoe County. There were 2,574 enrolled in WCSD charters; 6,053 in CCSD charters, and 244 in Carson charters. [NVDE]  Thus, charter school students comprise only 0.019 of Nevada’s total school enrollment.  Students enrolled in private schools constitute about 3.08% of Nevada’s total enrollment. [NVED]  The good news is that there aren’t very many students attending private or charter schools to drain resources (at the moment), the bad news is that SB 302 encourages parents to remove their children from public schools and “take the money with them” to private ones.

The devilish details: The provisions of SB 302 are not scheduled to go into effect until January 2016, but the devil, as always is going to be in the details.  The Nevada Treasurer, Dan Schwartz, appears to be most concerned that the ESA funds aren’t subject to ‘fraud.’

“We are keenly aware of how many parents have been asking for choices when it comes to their children’s education. Our team is committed to developing a quality program that avoids the mistakes of the Nevada Health Link and works effectively and efficiently to implement its objectives” said Treasurer Schwartz. “I want to see these accounts funded as soon as possible, but we must ensure that processes are in place to make enrolling simple and payment fair and devoid of fraud. Today’s announcement marks the first step of many towards true universal school choice for all Nevada families,” concluded Schwartz.” [NVT pdf]

First, there’s nothing quite like having the Tea Party Darling Treasurer take a pot shot at the ACA in a totally unrelated press release, but perhaps that’s to be expected.  Secondly, that Tea Party expression, “true universal school choice,” isn’t a dog whistle; it’s a bull horn announcement about the privatization of public education.  The Treasurer wants a “simple, fair, and devoid of fraud” system.  The problem is that “fraud” isn’t defined in this statement.  This doesn’t stop the Treasurer’s office from moving right along.

The State Treasurer expects to implement the ESA’s by April 2016, and is already accepting applications.  [STO]  The application form satisfies the “simple” part of State Treasurer Schwartz’s formula. Name, grade, address, attendance in a public or charter school for 100 days?  But now a gremlin shows up.

“The Treasurer’s Office has been notified by the Nevada Department of Education, that pursuant to NRS 388.850, a private school or “home school” student may not participate in a program of distance education (online class) to satisfy the 100 school day requirement. However, a private school or “home school” student may qualify for an ESA by taking one or more classes in a public or charter school, pursuant to NRS 386.580(5) and 392.070(3).” [STO]

And there are more pesky details.  At issue here is the “100 day” enrollment requirement, which even home-school advocates admit has been “successful” in Arizona, and which prevents “yo-yo” parenting, i.e. home-schooling a youngster, then enrolling the child in a school only to pull the child out and resuming the home-schooling.  [NHN fb] There are more difficult determinations to be made.

“Under section 12 of this bill, each child on whose behalf a grant is made must take certain standardized examinations in mathematics and English language arts. Subject to applicable federal privacy laws, a participating entity must provide those test results to the Department of Education, which must aggregate the results and publish data on the results and on the academic progress of children on behalf of whom grants are made. Under section 13 of this bill, the State Treasurer must make available a list of all entities who are participating in the grant program, other than parent of a child.” [NVLeg]

Okay, I see “mathematics and English language arts,” but I do not see Science? Social Studies?  So, could a parent enroll a child in the Fly In The Night School which doesn’t provide instruction in science or social studies? And, still apply for a grant? Or, must the schools on the approved list also comply with the state curriculum standards

If so, and most legitimate private schools do, in fact, offer much the same curricula as the public ones, then fine. However, if the answer is “no” or “maybe” then we’re treading into controversial areas like creationism, in which the radical Christian elements call for:  “Specific textbook chapters on Biblical and scientific creationism should be included in all science textbooks written for the Christian community. The rest of the textbook content, as well as all other curricular materials, should contain the principles and elements of Biblical and scientific creationism in a fully integrated form.” [ICR]  This view hinges on I Corinthians 2:14-16 and Colossians 3:2 – and that brings up the issues related to the Nevada Constitution.

“The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year, and any school district which shall allow instruction of a sectarian character therein may be deprived of its proportion of the interest of the public school fund during such neglect or infraction, and the legislature may pass such laws as will tend to secure a general attendance of the children in each school district upon said public schools.” [NV Const. Art 2 Sect 2]

Now, we have to ask: If a school receives state money from the state treasury does it have to adhere to the provisions of the Nevada Constitution?  If the school doesn’t take state public funds then there’s obviously no question about what curriculum it may adopt, but if the school takes the public funding and teaches Creationism…?

Back in the Social Studies Department, NRS 389 requires instruction in the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Nevada Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the “origin and history of the Constitution,” along with “the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals; and Civics.”  Instruction in American History is also required.  The state legislature has also been relatively specific about what should be taught in terms of financial literacy. {NRS 389.074} These provisions include “developing financial responsibility,” managing finances, using credit and consumer protection laws and the benefits of financial regulation.

The implementation of SB 302 could get interesting, especially when discussing American History curricula.  SB 302 contains a provision which makes this tricky territory:

“The State Treasurer may refuse to allow such an entity to continue to participate in the program if the State Treasurer finds that the entity fails to comply with applicable provisions of law or has failed to provide educational services to a child who is participating in the program.” 

Remember, the law (NRS 389) requires instruction in “the study of and devotion to American institutions.”  Would a “school” which promotes the secessionists ideals of the 51st State, or the Texas Nationalist Movement, or the Alaska Independent Party, or the “A New State Initiative,” [Alternet] be in compliance with NRS 389? Or, what’s “devotional” about the ramblings of former drive-time radio jockey Glenn Beck’s version of US History in which everything’s been going downhill since the administration of Woodrow Wilson? [NewYorker]

Section 9 of SB 302 provides for funding: tuition and fees; textbooks; tutoring; distance education; test fees; special instruction for children with disabilities; the purchase of curricula and supplemental materials to administer the curricula.

Does this section mean that state funds could be allocated to schools which promote Intelligent Design? State tax dollars spent on spurious science?   [Mooney] Or, curricula/supplemental materials promoting the preservation of white male privilege and exceptionality? [Salon]  One of those pesky details the Treasurer’s Office will have to address is which educational entities are allowed to receive state funds and what the criteria will be.

On the other hand, would a school which is Afro-Centric, or Hispanic Oriented, be eligible for ESA funding? Would supplemental materials from Planned Parenthood be covered under Section 9 (SB 302) for health education?  Would the Treasurer’s office include a school on the approved list which caters to the needs and views of the LGBT community?  When the radical right demands “universal school choice” they might want to be careful what they wish for?

Lastly, there’s the obfuscating title of the great give-away: Educational Savings Accounts.  There’s no savings there. This isn’t a matter of “saving” anything – it’s simply a give-away to those who want to pull their kids out of school and take the tax money with them.

What to watch for:  (1) The criteria developed by the State Treasurer’s Office for the approval of educational entities entitled to receive funding from the ESA’s.  (2) The applicability of the state Constitutional provisions on sectarian education; and (3) The applicability of state laws (NRS 389) to the materials and curricula adopted by the entitled entities.

Put the popcorn in the micro-wave in April 2016?

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