Opportunity Scholarships, School Choice, And Literacy Take Center Stage In Legislature
Kieckhefer: ‘We are growing Opportunity Scholarships because choice should be for everyone’
By Megan Barth, April 26, 2023 2:24 pm
Yesterday, Governor Lombardo’s Chief of Staff Ben Kieckhefer held a press conference in his office highlighting two of the Governor’s bills which will be heard before their respective committees today in Carson City. On the back of Keickhefer’s office chair laid a t-shirt emblazoned with “Getting sh*t done–Joe Lombardo.” The press conference focused on two bills of importance to the Governor to advance his agenda as outlined in his State of the State address.
Assembly Bill 400 is Governor Lombardo’s Education Achievement, Opportunity and Investment Act which and a companion to the Governor’s budget which includes a historic investment of $2 billion in K-12 education including $1.2 billion in new funding for teacher raises, supplemental supports, expanded instruction time, and wraparound services for students.
The main components of AB400 are School Choice, Early Childhood Literacy, Opportunity Scholarships, Accountability and Teacher Pipeline.
The bill will create the office of School Choice within the Department of Education and requires open zoning, as opposed to hard zoning, allowing students and their parents to choose a school outside of their mandated zip code or neighborhood. In addition, charter schools can now be approved if there is a need due to overcrowding.
The bill also increases Opportunity Scholarship funding from $50 million to $500 million over 10 years and expands eligibility from 300% to 500% of the poverty level which grows access to Opportunity Scholarships to middle class families. Tax credits can be taken against the Insurance Premium Tax and Gaming Tax in addition to the Modified Business Tax.
When asked by a reporter why eligibility has been expanded to include families of four making $150,000 a year, Kieckhefer replied, “that number is a middle class family and we are growing Opportunity Scholarships because choice should be for everyone. School choice is a reality, but it is primarily available for wealthy people and we think expanding Opportunity Scholarships to middle class families aligns with our belief that choice should be for everyone.”
Reviving an education policy of Governor Brian Sandoval, the goal of ‘Read by Three’ will be introduced with a five year goal and will invest an additional $123 million in Pre-K literacy. In addition, another $123 million will be invested in teacher advancement programs. Kieckhefer stressed that funding will be tied to outcomes and stressed the need for accountability.
In an exclusive editorial provided to the Nevada Globe, the leadership members of the Republican Assembly noted:
This bill will advance school choice, expand Opportunity Scholarships, and improve childhood literacy. As of today, five states have enacted universal school choice legislation. Nevada was the first to do so in 2015, but the law was struck down by the Nevada Supreme Court. If we don’t revisit the concept of building meaningful parental choice for our education system, students and families will be left behind as other states that do enact these reforms will see significant gains.
Polls show that two-thirds of Nevada parents are interested in sending their children to a school other than their local public school. Charter schools should be a choice for these parents too. A government monopoly on education is the way of the past, let’s model ourselves after other states that have successfully promoted school choice.
Senate Bill 431, Governor Lombardo’s Government Modernization and Efficiency Act is divided into five main categories: State Employee Management, State Fiscal Management, Governor’s Office Management and creates offices for boards, commissions and council; limits the Governor’s emergency powers to 90 days; and, eliminates numerous boards and commissions.
In part, SB431 seeks to compensate state employees to reduce the state employee vacancy rate which remains in double digits since the pandemic and streamlines the hiring process to fill open positions efficiently and expeditiously. Due to the former Governor Sisolak’s pandemic response, which bankrupted small businesses, increased the state unemployment rate to 30 percent and stressed DETR to the brink of failure, DETR will be revamped and renamed to the Department of Workforce and include three divisions: Workforce Innovation, Reemployment Division, and Workforce Rehabilitation Division. As Sisolak abused his emergency powers for over one year, SB431 would negate this opportunity to abuse such authority.
The bill also increases the Rainy Day Fund cap from 20 percent to 30 percent in order to sustain economic viability during economic downturns and creates a Nevada Way Account, often touted by Governor Lombardo, to spur investment and innovative technology in the Silver State through public-private partnerships. Kiekhefer noted that the Nevada Way Account “is designed to support the investment of significant new capital in this state.”
The Nevada Globe will be covering the hearing this afternoon in the Capitol and will provide additional updates to this story.
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