Nevada governor announces historic school choice initiatives

Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo, a Republican who ousted incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak in November, promised Nevadans more school choice in his first State of the State address.

Lombardo promised members of the Nevada Assembly gathered in Carson City that his budget would give parents and students more education choices than any budget in the state’s history.

“Every Nevada child has the right to quality education and should be college or career ready by the time they graduate high school,” Lombardo told the joint session of the Nevada legislature. “Traditional public schools are not and should not be the only option.” 

Private schools, magnet schools, charter schools, micro schools, virtual schools and homeschooling are alternatives the new governor said the state should support in order to give Nevada parents more choices for their child’s education. 

Lombardo also announced plans to create the Office of School Choice inside the state’s Department of Education through legislation.

The office would serve as a source of information for parents and students about every available education option and ensure that all education providers are held to similar standards. 

Lombardo also proposed the increased use of “opportunity scholarships,” which would have state education dollars follow students regardless of the type of schooling they chose.

An opportunity scholarship in Nevada “mirrors successful tax credit programs that have been available in many other states for a number of years,” according to the Nevada School Choice Coalition. 

Currently, scholarship awards of up to $8,500 cover K-12 private school tuition and fees, but are restricted to households under 300 percent of the poverty level. 

“I look forward to…expanding opportunity scholarships… I fully expect opportunity scholarships to receive a record amount of funding this session,” said Lombardo.  

Previously, the state has also capped the amount of scholarship funding at $6 million per year, Valeria Gurr, Nevada executive director for the School Choice Coalition told The Lion. 

The new proposals from Lombardo aim to provide $25 million in funding annually for the next two years, she said.  

If passed it will help clear the long waitlist of students who have applied, she says. 

“It is really refreshing to have a governor who wants to expand the opportunity scholarship program,” said Gurr, while noting that she’s been working for a number of years to make the opportunity scholarships available to more parents. “[Lombardo] is proposing making funding permanent for it and increasing funding in record numbers that we haven’t seen before.” 

Lombardo received accolades from around the state for the legislative agenda focusing on school choice.  

“It’s a beautiful proposal,” Amy Tarkanian, a former Nevada Republican state chair, told The Lion about the governor’s expansion of opportunity scholarships.  

“I would say for the most part and if you go through the articles and through Twitter, you actually saw Democrats were happy with some of it, reluctantly,” Tarkanian added about the proposals in the State of the State address. 

Tarkanian said that the governor’s willingness to put more money into public education while focusing on expanding school choice was “the way government was supposed to work.”

“And I love the fact too, that while he’s willing to put more money into the public school system, he is also calling for accountability,” she said. “If a third grader can’t read at the third grade level, they shouldn’t advance until they can.”