School Finance

Jason Bedrick

This is the ninth entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael GoldsteinSeth RauMatthew LadnerJonathan ButcherTracey WeinsteinAndy SmarickNeerav Kingsland, and Lindsey M. Burke.

Earlier this month, Governor Brian Sandoval signed into law the nation’s first nearly universal education savings account (ESA) program. Education reformers are right to be excited, but now comes the hard part: resisting the temptation to overregulate.

At the core of the market-based approach is a deep epistemological modesty. We do not know the best way to educate students, or even if there is a “best” way. There is a legitimate diversity of views regarding what students should know and how to teach them, and different children have different learning needs.

There is no perfect system. All our institutions are constructed from the crooked timber of humanity. Ultimately, there will be failures in the private sector, just as there are in the public. Education providers will try new things only to discover that they...

Lindsey M. Burke

This is the eighth entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael GoldsteinSeth RauMatthew LadnerJonathan ButcherTracey WeinsteinAndy Smarick, and Neerav Kingsland.

Recently in Florida, an eleven-year-old boy was taken by Child Protective Services for playing basketball in his own back yard without parent supervision. More than 150,000 parents opted their children out of state tests in New York this past school year. Police in Texas shut down a lemonade stand set up by two little girls who were hoping to earn a few dollars to buy their dad a Father’s Day present. And there are more children being diagnosed with Youthful Tendency Disorder than ever before.

(Sorry, that last one was an Onion headline.)

Although these headlines appear unrelated, they’re actually representative of the same phenomenon: Regardless of the merits of the policy (e.g., state testing requirements), there is a growing perception that accountability has morphed into overregulation.

In order for Nevada’s ESA option to flourish, it cannot die a death by...

This is the seventh entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael GoldsteinSeth RauMatthew LadnerJonathan ButcherTracey Weinstein, and Andy Smarick.

Depending on their income level, a family in Nevada will soon receive between $5,100 and $5,700 to spend on education services.

This is a lot of power over a relatively low amount of money. Due to this low level of funding, an otherwise innovative regulatory policy will face significant quality and equity challenges.

In an ideal world, the government would set the price of an educational savings account by pricing the account for general education students at or near the median market price for private school tuition, as well as by instituting weights for at-risk students. This pricing mechanism utilizes the non-governmental education market to determine what families and schools believe to be the cost of educating a child. Using the median price instead of the average would prevent status-driven elite private schools from skewing the amount too high....

This is the sixth entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael GoldsteinSeth RauMatthew LadnerJonathan Butcher, and Tracey Weinstein.

I’m excited about Nevada’s new education savings accounts, though not without concern. What I want most is for everyone to appreciate just how momentous this new program is and to understand its promise and risks.

Nevada’s ESAs could precipitate the largest and swiftest expansion of school choice in this movement’s history. Every single family with a school-aged child will have the opportunity to use a per-pupil allotment of state funds to help cover a wide array of educational expenses. This includes private school tuition, tutoring, online learning programs, special education services, and much more.

In the best of circumstances, this will enable families to craft personalized educational programs for their children. ESAs should also energize the “supply side,” spurring the development of new schools and programs to meet the varied needs of Nevada’s students.

So if everything goes according to...

Tracey Weinstein, Ph.D.

This is the fifth entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael GoldsteinSeth RauMatthew Ladner, and Jonathan Butcher.

When SB302 passed in Nevada, introducing the country to its first and only universal choice program, the laudatory blogs and editorials—followed by a few hedged headlines—started pouring in. Many celebrated a landmark moment for the choice movement, while others wondered about the long-term implications of this new frontier.

But as I read through each piece, I couldn’t help but think of the words penned a few months back by the CEO and founder of 50CAN, Marc Porter Magee, when reflecting on the advocacy process. He wrote: “There is nothing worse than ‘winning’ in your advocacy campaign only to find out that the policies you helped enact actually do little to address the underlying problem you are so passionate about solving.”

In full disclosure, while StudentsFirst is active in Nevada and helped Governor Sandoval and legislators enact several major school choice and accountability reforms this session, we...

Jonathan Butcher

This is the fourth entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael GoldsteinSeth Rau, and Matthew Ladner.

Nevada lawmakers just created education savings accounts, a flexible way for parents to find a high-quality education for their children. Parents and students have many options with these accounts, and lawmakers may feel a strong temptation to regulate them out of a fear of the unknown. 

Historically, the number of regulations lawmakers have enacted is as worrisome as whether the government’s responses fit the intended purpose. An instructive example comes from Australia. In 1935, the nation had a problem with beetles eating the nation’s sugar cane. As a remedy, lawmakers introduced cane toads to the continent to eat the bugs.

The toads took care of the pests, only to become pests themselves. Now the nation has 200 million cane toads and admits “eradication (except locally) is not practicable.” A government’s proposed solution to a problem became a problem in itself, complete with more regulation.

Like cane toads...

Matthew Ladner

This is the third entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael Goldstein and Seth Rau.

The public education system as we knew it in the mid-twentieth century had academic transparency that fell somewhere on the non-existent-to-scant spectrum. Academics were aware of achievement gaps in national data, for instance, but state- and (especially) campus-level academic or financial data were in short supply. Realtors served as the de facto information brokers of the public education system I enrolled into, in the Texas of the early 1970s, and they based their expert opinions on gossip and perhaps the ethnicity of the kids they saw running around on the playground.

We’ve come a long way, baby, but our notions of accountability must continue to evolve with the times. The statewide ESA program in Nevada poses a number of unique challenges that can be tackled with fresh thinking and thoughtful balances.

Our friends at Fordham posed the question thusly: “As Nevada implements its groundbreaking education savings account...

Seth Rau

Nevada is a state of constant experimentation. From its founding in the days before the 1864 presidential race to ensure an additional three electoral votes for President Lincoln’s reelection to letting the state be turned into a nuclear site in the 1950s to the so-far dormant Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, many forces have used Nevada for their experiments. Knowing its history as a testing ground, Nevada should regulate its new, nearly universal education savings accounts, or ESAs, (current private school students are excluded to avoid a large cost to the state) in a fashion similar to another uniquely legal phenomenon in the state: prostitution. You may chuckle, but there are real similarities here.

Prostitution in Nevada has a few non-negotiables. First, the employees (most are actually non-unionized independent contractors, but that’s another analogy) participating in the work must be tested and examined regularly to ensure the customers’ safety and satisfaction. On the user end, the client must use protection in order to protect the employee’s safety per the state’s regulations. Once these details are in place, however, everything else is open to negotiation. The employee and the client can take part in both imaginable and unthinkable acts within...

Michael Goldstein

This is the first entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs:

“As Nevada implements its groundbreaking education savings account program, what must it get right in order to provide positive outcomes for kids and taxpayers? Should state authorities stay out of the way? Or are there certain areas that demand oversight and regulation?”

Part One: 

Let’s agree on the following: Typical charter schools aren’t lighting the world on fire.

Some outliers exist. There's a low tail, of course, and a battle over whether regulators can shut 'em down fast enough.

There's a high tail, too—KIPP, Uncommon, AF, YES, Success, High Tech High, Collegiate, etc. Reformy non-profits and ed-tech ventures sometimes supply these exemplars with services, and are sometimes spun out of them.

A lot of the leaders from these top-performing schools show up the day before each New Schools Venture Fund Annual Summit for a smaller get-together. Education reform opponents might liken these meetings to a scene from The Godfather in which crime families gather to discuss how to more effectively...

In 2014, we hosted our first-ever Wonkathon, which was dedicated to the subject of charter school policy. (See the original post here and the results here. Joe Siedlecki of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation was voted the wisest, wonkiest wonk of all.)

Now we’re back with the sequel. In light of exciting new developments in Nevada, the focus this year will be on education savings accounts. We’ve asked a select group of education policy wonks to respond to the following prompt:

As Nevada implements its groundbreaking education savings account program, what must it get right in order to provide positive outcomes for kids and taxpayers? Should state authorities stay out of the way? Or are there certain areas that demand oversight and regulation?

Look for responses over the next ten days from the likes of Neerav Kingsland, Michael Goldstein, Lindsey Burke, Jonathan Butcher, Robin Lake, and Matthew Ladner. If you’d like to participate, send your submission as soon as possible to mpetrilli (at) edexcellence (dot) net. At the end of the series, we’ll ask our readers to tell us who provided the most compelling answer. May...

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