When Isaiah and his folks moved to Las Vegas in 2015, a big reason was that the Nevada Legislature had just passed Education Savings Accounts into law.
Isaiah’s two mothers are educated professionals, the kind of people eagerly sought by Nevada state economic-development officials.
They are also, however, the sort of educated professionals who frequently disappoint Nevada recruiters as they decide, eventually, to locate in some other state.
Why do these educated professionals choose to avoid the Silver State?
Recruiters regularly hear the same reason, “Your schools suck, and rather than pay through the nose for private school, I can just live in a place where the government is holding up its end of the deal.”
Although Isaiah’s parents, too, knew of the state’s public-schools problem, they had also learned of the state’s new ESA law — which, they realized, could solve the poor-schools problem.
What the law offered children with special needs also pleased them, as it offered a quality solution to their five-year-old son’s unique educational needs.
Isaiah, it appeared, had some disability — most likely, dyslexia. That’s what Carmen and her wife, an occupational therapist, believed. After adopting him as an infant, when they lived in Los Angeles, they began to suspect the condition. It’s an issue Carmen is sensitive to, as she herself is mildly dyslexic.
In Las Vegas, a staff person at one of the city’s Montessori schools suggested that they take Isaiah to Cox Elementary and request an assessment. And when that assessment was done, it, indeed, showed Isaiah did have special needs — which under federal law means he’d be entitled to particular services.
Cox Elementary suggested he be enrolled there, but the school, like many in CCSD, lacked a dyslexia specialist, even though a 2015 law — Assembly Bill 341 — required public schools to have such specialists, trained in the latest research into helping dyslexic kids learn.
The Montessori people, on the other hand, had gone out of their way to help. Not only had they found other kids at the school faced with the same challenge, but they’d also hired somebody who’d be qualified for helping these kids.
And Montessori did this at no extra cost to any of the parents.
So, Carmen was in the first group of parents to apply for ESA funding and even was approved. Like many Nevada parents with special-needs kids, she and her spouse thought the program would be providing them some relief from the extra financial burden of providing the special education that kids require.
Although the Clark County School District professes to supply such services, and receives millions of federal dollars annually to do so, for decades the district been regularly sued by parents of special-needs kids. Indeed, Nevada newspapers and court records are replete with accounts of egregious physical abuse of their charges by district special-ed employees.
Anxiously, therefore, Isaiah’s parents watched the legal challenge to Nevada’s Education Savings Accounts law. And then they learned that ESA parents’ nominal victory at the state Supreme Court wouldn’t work for them. Although the court found the program constitutional, the decision required different funding for the program. And when Gov. Brian Sandoval put such funding in his proposed 2017-2019 biennial budget, it was killed by the 2017 legislature’s Democrat leadership — politicians whose power depends on serving the government-school monopoly, rather than parents and children.
The result for Isaiah’s folks is that they now pay roughly $1500-extra each month, out of pocket, for both his private school tuition and for his dyslexia-qualified tutor. And those expenses are on top of the roughly $2500 each month the family pays to the state in taxes — much of which goes, it happens, to fund the schooling of other parents’ children.
All of this means that, even though Carmen and her spouse — both well-educated — bring in about $11,700 a month, four grand of that is committed even before they can think about paying their rent, car payments or other bills, including their student loans, which today are at the level of a mortgage on a decent Vegas house.
So they pinch their pennies and budget. They’ve been driving the same car for 12 years. As their lease is up soon, they’re looking for a cheaper place to live, in order to loosen up the finances a bit.
It would be significantly easier, if they were able to get Isaiah the “Free Appropriate Public Education” that federal law — the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) —promises kids like Isaiah. The reality in Nevada, however, is that while CCSD takes the federal and state dollars intended to provide the services Isaiah needs, the district regularly fails to provide those services.
And for any parent who loves his or her child, that’s heartbreaking.
There’s a blanket approach that CCSD takes with special-needs children, parents repeatedly tell Nevada Journal.
“It seems that every time I talk to a parent whose child qualifies, they have the same story,” reports Joshua King. “It’s that CCSD wanted to put the child in a room with all the other special-needs kids, and just hope they all do better. No attention is paid to determining what each child actually needs, and how those needs should be addressed.”
While “the federal government requires that all students and parents receive an Individual Education Plan, which is to be implemented in the kids’ educations, it seems to be commonplace that it does not happen,” said King.
Carmen observes that she is paying into a system that, while supposed to provide this basic service to her child, is not holding up its end of the bargain.
Her argument is substantial and cogent: There is no reason she should not be allowed to take the money that would be allotted for him to sit in a public school and stagnate, and give it to a school that will help him thrive.
She also makes a discerning point about the serious public-policy error Nevada is making, in allowing partisans of a dysfunctional government school monopoly to drive away well-educated families, whose skills and residency can benefit the entire state.
“Why would [such families] choose our state as their home,” she asks, “if it’s going to compel them to pay out of pocket for a basic service that their state and federal taxes are supposedly meant to provide, and which, in many places, their taxes do provide — and then the state does not provide that service?”