The battle over opportunity scholarships and school choice was well-chronicled throughout the 82nd legislative session as Republican Governor Joe Lombardo and Democratic leadership could not reach a compromise on Opportunity Scholarships. Legislative Democrats blocked efforts to provide any additional money to fund the ~$6.7 million program.
During the legislative session, Senate Majority leader Nicole Cannizzaro announced that the Democratic majority was “working to better the lives of all Nevadans,” yet, without additional funding, it is now estimated that 600 low-income students are poised to lose their scholarships to attend a school of their choice or a school that they have been attending–since 2015–when the program was established.
During the 2015 legislative session, bill AB165 was passed providing a means for taxpayers to contribute funds to one-of-six approved Opportunity Scholarship organizations in lieu of paying all or part of their modified business tax. Although funded through tax credits, Opportunity Scholarships have been labeled by many Democrats as a “scam” and a “voucher program” that diverts taxpayer money from public schools.
In the last legislative session, Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Steve Yeager signaled he was against Governor Lombardo’s Education Achievement, Opportunity and Investment Act. In part, the bill increased Opportunity Scholarships to $500 million over 10 years and expanded eligibility from 300% to 500% of the poverty level. Tax credits could have be taken against the Insurance Premium Tax and Gaming Tax in addition to the Modified Business Tax.
Yeager took the fight to social media and claimed that no one in his district asked for subsidies for private schools. He then amplified the far-left Battle Born Progress‘ tweet spreading misinformation that school vouchers were a “scam” and that the legislation was sending tax dollars to private schools.
When I spoke with constituents during the last campaign cycle, nobody asked me how the state could subsidize sending their kid(s) to private school. They asked for better public schools, which means more funding and more educators/education support professionals as well as robust… https://t.co/5iatkCrUzE
— Steve Yeager (@SteveYeagerNV) April 27, 2023
Valeria Gurr, State Director of Nevada School Choice Coaltion, told The Globe:
“Democratic leaders Nicole Cannizzaro and Steve Yeager killed all the bills proposed by Governor Lombardo and didn’t allocate any additional funding for these scholarships. When Governor Sisolak–a Democrat–was in office, the Democrats had no problem funding the program. Now that a Republican is governor, the Democrats won’t fund the program. Playing politics with kids is wrong and unethical, and politics should never play with the lives of low income families when it comes to bettering their child’s education.”
One Opportunity Scholarship organization, Silver State Scholarships, may have to deliver this bad news to approximately 428 kids enrolled in the program.
Founder Michele Morgan painted a dire picture for her organization and her students, telling The Globe:
“If the legislators cared about the kids, they would match or increase the funds.
Governor Lombardo had a great program, but Democrats decided they didn’t want to fund it.
We have kids that have been in the private system for eight years. The schools we serve are charters, religious schools and secular private schools. If we throw these kids into public school, it will set them back significantly. I am concerned what this is going to do to the children’s emotional health and stability in life.
You cannot explain to a nine year-old that they are being plucked out of their favorite school and thrown into an environment they aren’t used to.
Children need stability and familiarity and this is going to ruin them. It is going to affect them for years to come.
We are dealing with children who live in poverty, who have food insecurity, and may live in unsafe neighborhoods. But now, they are going to be taken out of their safety zone–their school.
We get well-over 1000 applications ever year. The legislators need to expand the program, not cut the program, for Nevada’s future.”
Meanwhile, the battle continues on social media, with Better Nevada PAC targeting Democratic leadership:
Voters won't forget how they defunded opportunity scholarships. #NVleg
— Nevada War Room – Better NV PAC (@BetterNevadaPAC) July 24, 2023
Morgan told The Globe that she spoke to the Governor’s office last week and that she understood they were working on a solution. Gurr stressed, “If we don’t have a solution by August 1, these kids are going to lose their scholarships.”
Ben Kieckhefer, Chief of Staff to Governor Joe Lombardo told The Globe: “It’s devastating to see that so many low-income students may be stripped of their scholarships at the hands of legislative Democrats. This situation is a direct consequence of Democrats refusing to acknowledge the hundreds of thousands of Nevadans who support school choice. These students and families are the exact reason that Governor Lombardo fought so hard for Opportunity Scholarships, despite facing pushback from Democrats at every turn. Our office will continue to look for a solution for the upcoming school year.”
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