Education Savings Account – A state funded/controlled “school choice” program

2017 Update on the ESA Program:  Two bills, SB 359 (Senator Hammond) & SB 506 (Governor Sandoval) have been filed during the 2017 NV Legislative Session to update the ESA program in lieu of the Supreme Court decision issued last year (see Editor’s Note).  At this time, 4/12/17, it looks like only SB  506 is moving forward.  This bill contains a “funding” correction along a few adjustments to the program.  The major issue at hand is that because the program cannot be funded using government funding earmarked for public schools, the Governor would like to use $60 million from the state’s “general fund” (which is not enough to cover the existing applications on file) to fund the program.  We will wait until we know whether this bill passes to update the specifics of some changes to the program created by the this piece of legislation.

Editor’s Note:  On Sept. 29, 2016 the Nevada Supreme Court ruled on two lawsuits brought against the NV ESA law,  16-30306 NV SC.Schwartz v. Lopez 09.29.16 .   The “funding mechanism” for the program being found unconstitutional the program has a permanent injunction on it.  A solution to the problem will need to be addressed by the 2017 Legislature.  9/29/16 Nevada Appeal Story 

See our blog post, Education Liberty vs. School Choice for continuing updates on the impact of the ESA program on homeschool freedom in Nevada.

Using a Nevada ESA: There are many creative ways within the Education Savings Account (ESA) Program for children to receive an education and this may be a viable option for some families in our state.  However, to be clear, this is NOT “homeschooling” as defined in Nevada statute.  A poorly written ESA program can be a Trojan Horse to homeschoolers… so we must always be watchful of changes to the statutes and regulations governing the ESA program.

The statutes governing the ESA program are NRS 353B.850-880NRS 388D.100-140 pursuant to NRS 392.070 (3).  The program is overseen and regulated by the NV State Treasurer’s Office (regulations – NACs are still pending for this program and the entire program is “on hold” pending a resolution to funding problem outlined in the Supreme Court decision on ESAs).  

As a “cost-savings measure” by the Legislature, eligibility for a tax-payer funded ESA was limited to children “enrolled in a public school”.

  • Current private school and homeschool students are not eligible for an ESA but may become eligible by enrolling in a public/charter school for “100 consecutive school days” immediately prior to the ESA application.
  • If the child was homeschooled prior to enrollment in the public school, the NOI to Homeschool becomes void.
  • Once the enrollment period has been met, parents may then apply for the ESA Grant and use a “Participating Entity” approved by the NV State Treasurer for the education of the child.

The parent of a child approved for an ESA grant then files a Notification of Intent of an Opt-in Child with the local school district, indicating the “Participating Entity” the child will be educated by, in accordance with NRS 388D.110 . The school district will provide a “receipt” of submission of the NOI/Opt-in Child which will serve as proof of compliance with Nevada’s compulsory attendance law.

An approved “Participating Entity” may be a Nevada private school, an online school, an accredited tutor/tutorial agency, or the parent who will provide a “home-based education” to the child.

  • A parent who becomes an approved Participating Entity may use ESA funds for “approved” (by the State Treasurer) educational curriculum (though they may be “religious” publishers according the 9/29/16 Supreme Court ruling), materials, “dual-credit” college courses for a child under the age of 18, and the annual required test.
  • A parent may not pay themselves for doing the teaching nor anyone else who is not an approved Participating Entity.
  • Please note:  parents wishing to provide a “home based education” under the ESA program must apply to become a “Participating Entity/Parent” with the NV State Treasurer’s office.

Parents considering this ESA program should be aware of the “accountability” requirements for the use of government funding:

  • An annual standardized test (choice of the state test or any nationally norm-referenced test) must be administered to an “Opt-in Child” by the “participating entity” providing the education.
  • Test results must be reported to Nevada Department of Education who will notify the State Treasure’s office for “review of academic progress” for continuation in the program.
  • Test results are to be published in “aggregate” form by the Nevada Department of Education.
  • All data collected by the NV-DOE on an ESA Opt-in child will be included in the State Longitudinal Data System since these students were first public school students before becoming an “ESA Opt-in Child”.
  • Lastly, ESA accounts will be audited annually (randomly) by the State Treasurer’s office to review the “educational expenses” parents pay for with the account in an effort to prevent fraud and abuse.

For more discussion on this topic:
Homeschooling vs State Controlled ESA Grant 
by Barbara Dragon, NHN Officer Emeritus, updated 1/15/2017

Kleenex vs. Puffs; Homeschool vs. ESA Program  by Frank Schnorbus, NHN Chairman 8/21/2015

“Homeschooling” vs. “Home Based Education”; Is There a Difference? – NHN Officers 8/23/2015

Alternative Education Funding Programs – NHN position statement on government funded/controlled “School Choice” 1/18/2015

The Truth About ESAs by Cindy Nicolai presented this “Pinocchio” analogy at the 2016 HSLDA National Leaders Conference during a panel discussion between two advocates for government funded school choice (Robert Enlow, Ed Choice and Lindsey Burke, The Heritage Foundation) and two advocates for homeschool freedom (Dr. Brian Ray, National Home Education Research Institute-NHERI and Cindy Nicolai, Constitutional Home Educators Association, Oklahoma) 9/2016

Helpful informational charts on the differences between NV education options:
NV Educational Choice Options
– Chart showing “Who’s in Charge?” of the child’s education.

Education Options in Nevada  – Pictorial chart showing different education options for parents to choose from and how they differ.