The tanking economy is forcing many Nevadans to make sacrifices they never imagined. For parents who have previously managed to afford it, however, private school is one of the last things they're willing to give up as a new school year approaches.
Single mom Vikki Licklider took a second nursing job just to start 12-year-old Jessica and 8-year-old Olivia at Faith Lutheran Junior-Senior High School and Faith Lutheran Academy respectively this year. (She's paying the Christian private school $8,000 per child -- minus a $2,000 grant for Jessica.) Instead of 40 hours per week, Licklider now works 60.
"I don't go out, I have no life," she says. "But it's worth it to me."
In 2006 and 2007, after relocating to the valley from Virginia, Licklider sent Jessica and Olivia to Merryhill, which charged $9,500 per year per child.
"Last year, I just couldn't do it anymore," Licklider says, explaining that the economy caused a hardship related to the stock market.
The girls transferred to Bendorf Elementary, the nearest public school.
"The teachers were awesome," Licklider recalls. "But they were really stressed to the max. It's just really sad. They don't have the funding."
Last year, according to the Children's Advocacy Alliance, Nevada ranked 45th of 50 states in spending per student, 46th in teacher-to-student ratio and dead last in high-school dropout rate for its public schools.
After one of their first days at Bendorf, Jessica came home and told her mom: "All I want to do is be in a class where there are smart kids."
The school made room in a higher track, Licklider says, "once one became available." But even that wasn't enough.
"She was just going, 'OK, I'm gonna float through this.' "
Licklider says she looked into magnet schools, which offer an additional educational focus on a specific subject, such as math, but distance was a factor.
"They don't make it easy for busing, or even trying to get my kids across town," she says. "I can't get them across town and then get back to work."
As the president of BHD Advertising, single mom Jessica Tabares took a painful revenue hit last year. But she says she would never take her two sons public.
"Keeping the house is the most important thing," she says, "private school is the second."
Tabares -- who attended private school herself in her native Peru -- transferred Nicholas, 10, and Benjamin, 7, from Challenger (which she says charged $11,000 per child annually) to Cornerstone, which is about half the price.
"I told (my kids), 'I can't afford it anymore,' " Tabares says. "They were worried about their friends, but they understood my situation."
Public school was never an option.
"All the kids who go to public school on my block, they're always playing outside," Tabares says. "They never have homework. That I don't like."
Even with Tabares' decreased tuition, sacrifices had to be made. No more eating out, no vacations for the second year running. But, Tabares repeats the same mantra: "It's worth it."
"Benjamin is going into fifth grade, but he's going to do sixth- and seventh-grade math," she explains. "It's like a year ahead. And there's a lot of homework to do, research on the Internet.
"They keep them busy."
The past year has been no easier on Carole Campbell and her husband, Steve, a sales consultant. They're also hunkering down to afford the $10,000 per year required for 11-year-old Gavin to attend Foothills Montessori in Henderson.
"Each year, we look at it and think, can we do it?" Campbell says. "But we somehow manage. We value education more than we would fancy toys and clothes for ourselves."
Campbell says she and her husband were too frightened by the reputation of Clark County's public schools to even look at one (although they also say they would have considered a magnet school if one were closer to their home).
"The test scores and other things we hear about, forget about it," Campbell says, adding that she believes private schools make kids feel "more independent and able to take on things."
"Extreme Magic" producer Ari Levin and his wife, Akke, a partner in the Morris Peterson law office, pony up $16,000 per year so 5-year-old Jonah can attend the Hebrew Academy. While the economy hasn't hit their family as hard as some, their traditional trek to Akke's native Holland had to be tabled this year for the first time.
"I don't know if you want to call that a struggle," Ari says, "but school is the number-one priority."
Ari admits receiving a good education himself at Western High School.
"Times were way different back then," he notes. "You didn't have kids bringing guns to school."
Contact reporter Corey Levitan at email@example.com or 702-383-0456.