One of our readers, Dewey Quong, wrote us a letter to the editor assigning us some work to do. He was commenting on Sheila Leslie’s Feb. 16 column in which she wrote, “The 2015 legislation set aside about $5,100 per student in each voucher, far less than the cost of tuition of most private schools in Nevada, essentially turning the program into a subsidy for wealthy families, many of whom already send their children to private school.”
Quong wrote, “Is that fact or opinion? It is time for some hard numbers. Call up the local elementary, secondary and high schools to see how much they charge per student to attend. Include supplemental costs/fees not included in the tuition like uniforms, individual computers/tablets, books, lab supplies, etc. Ask the schools what they think the family should be earning to comfortably afford to send their children to that school. Also include how many hours each parent must give back to the school, like to help supervise field trips, work the counter at bake sales, etc. Now find out the average take-home pay of all the working people in Nevada who have children including those families living in motel rooms. Take the average take-home pay and minus the cost of living in Nevada for housing, food, clothing, transportation and other expenses required to live in the state. Put everything in nice columns and rows and show the percentage of people who can and can’t send their children to voucher schools.”
We’re not going to gather all this, some of which does not exist, but here are a few statistics that might be helpful to readers:
According to the Nevada Department of Education, the average cost allocated to pupils in Nevada during the current school year is $5,774. In Clark County, where most students live, it is $5,574. In Washoe, it is $5,658. Smaller counties tend to receive more, with one exception (Lander). In three counties, the allocation reaches five figures. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average national per-pupil spending is $10,700.
Shortly after the Nevada school grants program was enacted by the 2015 Nevada Legislature, we reported (“Working Poor Left Behind?” Aug. 13, 2015) that American Enterprise Institute researcher Nat Malkus wrote in U.S. News & World Report, “But market-based reforms depend on a functionally competitive market, and educational savings accounts alone cannot guarantee that. … My colleague Elizabeth English and I conducted a randomized survey of half of Nevada private schools (enrolling 50 or more students in 2011-12). The median private school was just over $8,000. Less than 20 percent of schools had tuitions below $5,200, and a quarter had tuitions below $5,700. On the one hand, these tuition prices bode well for a viable school choice market, because some options can be had with the educational savings account alone. On the other, families that can’t afford to supplement their accounts will be priced out of over half of Nevada’s private schools at current tuition rates.”
On Oct. 29, Trevon Milliard reported in the Reno Gazette-Journal that “only 7 percent of students applying for the money live in areas reporting low household income, while nearly a third of takers reside in the state’s richest zip codes where median household incomes exceed $75,000 at the least. A vast majority of applicants—80 percent—live in neighborhoods where median household incomes outpace the state median of $51,000, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal’s analysis of information released about the 3,000 students seeking public money for private school.”