During the legislative session, the Democratic majority discussed how they can help low-income families and individuals through raising real estate taxes, enacting rent control, and capping healthcare costs. Yet, while Nevada Democrats campaign on protecting low-income families and individuals, they have contradicted themselves by opposing the expansion of the Nevada Educational Choice Scholarship Program (Opportunity Scholarships)–a school choice program that benefits students from low-income families and a program that is backed by Republicans lawmakers.
Last school year, Opportunity Scholarships provided 1,625 low-income students with a better education. This school year, hundreds of students are on the verge of losing their choice in education–their opportunity. In an effort to save these students from the failing public school system, Republican Governor Joe Lombardo intervened last week and proposed $3.2 million in unused COVID-19 dollars to fund the program, drawing criticism from Democratic lawmakers and their allies.
The unanimous, Democratic opposition to supporting options for low-income students raises many questions. Shouldn’t Nevada Democrats, who claim to care about low-income families, support measures that improve access to Opportunity Scholarships for these families? Despite allocating record funding of $2 billion for public education, why did Democratic legislators and teachers unions oppose a mere $50 million for Opportunity Scholarships? Why did the Democratic majority significantly reduce funding for the program?
It is unjust to trap students in failing public schools that do not meet their needs. Every child deserves access to the best education, regardless of their ZIP code or family income.
Numerous studies have shown that school choice programs lead to “increased overall quality levels and lower costs” in education. In fact, while critics argue that school choice programs primarily benefit the “wealthy and private schools,” research has demonstrated the contrary. Students from low-income families have shown significant academic progress within just a few years of participating in these programs.
Nevada Policy Research Institute also found that expanding school choice programs can lead to millions of dollars in annual savings, which could then be used to support students in public schools. It is a win-win situation.
During a hearing on Assembly Bill 400, Nevada Democratic Party Chairwoman and Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno said that she wished she could “legislate what parents do” and revealed that she went to private school for a short period of time because her mother worked two jobs to afford her tuition while her father served in the military. Assm. Monroe-Moreno was very fortunate to attend private school through her parents’ financial support.
Likewise, for many low-income families, Opportunity Scholarships are a lifeline, enabling access to a quality education that might otherwise be financially out of reach. An Opportunity Scholarship recipient in Las Vegas said:
“This scholarship has helped my family very much. In 2016, my father passed away suddenly and my mom was unemployed. At the time, my mom had five kids and four of them were in school. When my dad passed, the help and support from the teachers at Mountain View helped my family so much. Without the scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to go to the same school as my siblings and I wouldn’t be able to learn what I need to be accountable for.”
While the Nevada State Education Association and Democratic Assemblywoman Selena La Rue Hatch have argued that “public money” should stay in “public schools,” they are ignoring the greater objective of empowering students and granting their families the freedom to choose educational opportunities that best align with their unique needs.
It is time for Democratic lawmakers to listen to voters and ensure low-income students have better and broader access to more Opportunity Scholarships. A commitment to empowering all students will not only lead to improved educational outcomes, but will create a stronger and more vibrant future for Nevada.
- Opinion: It Is Unjust to Trap Students Into Failing Public Schools - August 4, 2023