Nevada families want more educational options for their children
For several years Nevada has ranked almost last in K-12 education achievement and while many new programs and policies have been put in place some children just can’t wait for these programs to be fully implemented. And access to a quality education shouldn’t be limited to families that live in certain zip codes or based on the ability to pay for a private school. Every parents should be empowered to choose the best educational experience for their own children. That is why two years ago the Nevada Legislature created two programs to do just that. The Nevada Opportunity Scholarship and the Education Savings Account (ESA) programs put our state at the top in the nation for educational choices for every parent.
The Nevada Opportunity Scholarship Program mirrors other successful tax credit programs which have been available for over 10 years in various states. This program provides up to $7,755 in scholarship funds directed to help low to mid- income families to pay for private school tuition and fees. The funds are provided by Nevada companies which get a tax-credit in return for donating to this program. The Opportunity Scholarship program is available now and you can find more information on the State of Nevada Department of Education’s website here: http://bit.ly/1NSXsev.
The Nevada Education Savings Account (ESA) legislation was passed in 2015 and created the nation’s most expansive school choice program at that time. It provides public funds to pay for online learning, home-based schooling, private tuition, tutoring, therapy, among other educational services. The ESA is available to any Nevada public, magnet or charter school student who has attended a public school for at least 100 days. Children entering kindergarten or children from an active military duty household are exempt from the 100-day rule cited above. Under the ESA program K-12 students are eligible for approximately $5,100 per year/per child. If the student has a disability or the family qualifies for the free or reduced-price lunch program, they are eligible for about $5,800 per year.
After facing two lawsuits, the ESA program was ruled constitutional. Today, the ESA is simply waiting to be funded by the Legislature since the court’s ruling stated that the ESA funds must come from an account separate from the one used to support public schools. To comply with this ruling, Governor Brian Sandoval has introduced Senate Bill 506 to fund the program from general revenue dollars. Once this bill passes, the ESA program will become a reality for the thousands of families who applied.
For the last two years, parents and ESA supporters have been tirelessly fighting to make the ESA a reality in Nevada. Many of the supporters have sent emails, written letters, made phone calls and recorded personal testimony videos about the difference the ESA can make in their lives, and the lives of their children.
The interest shown in support of ESAs is enormous. Currently, there are over 10,000 ongoing applications submitted by families who believe in the program. Debunking the myth contrived by the opposition, The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that 66% of completed ESA applications were originated by parents whose household income is less than $50,000 per year (January 31, 2017). Proving that the Education Savings Account program has become a solution not for the rich, but for the families who would not be able to afford to pay for educational options without this program.
The Nevada education system has many challenges. Persistently overcrowded classrooms, lingering teacher shortages, thousands of instances of bullying continue to persist at the expense of our children. Nevada’s public schools continue to rank among the last in the nation. Our Children need more options now.
For some families choosing a school for their children can be a very stressful decision. Without having the financial resources to pay for a different alternative, Nevadans have no other choice than to send their children to the schools assigned to them by virtue of their zip code, even when those schools may not be meeting their needs!
A poll of Nevada voters showed that 61% of them support the ESA. The same poll also showed that voters have an “overwhelmingly positive view” of ESAs and school choice in the state.
Despite the strong support that the community has shown for the program, some groups continue to protect the status quo, denying children who need something different a chance to get the education they deserve. The State Teachers Union, a multimillion dollar union backed by DC special interests, is spending large amounts of money to scare and to mislead Nevadans. In addition, elected Democratic leaders have expressed their reservations about supporting the ESA although they haven’t even heard the bill yet!
As we approach the end of this legislative session, we are anxiously hoping to see the ESA becoming a funded program, because we believe that parents should have the power to decide what to do and where to send their children so they could get a quality education.
With about one week left with legislative session, we will see if parent’s and children’s’ interest really does matter. We will see if what we have been fighting for turns into a tangible program ready to be implemented. It is our hope that our elected officials will do the right thing. It’s not too late to contact them! Please, let them know why the ESA program is important to you. Please visit the Nevada Legislature website and learn who your legislators are and contact them, you can use this link here to learn who your legislators are: http://mapserve1.leg.state.nv.us/whoRU/