Up to 600 Nevada K-12 students may lose their school choice scholarships next year after the Legislature failed to raise the cap on the program and support the governor’s agenda on educational choice.
“It’s devastating to see that so many low-income students may be stripped of their scholarships at the hands of legislative Democrats,” Ben Kieckhefer, Gov. Joe Lombardo’s Chief of Staff told The Lion. “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 Gov. 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.”
That estimate of students who may lose scholarships comes from Valeria Gurr, senior fellow at the American Federation for Children, who also blamed Democrat lawmakers’ unwillingness to negotiate on the issue with the governor.
“We know @JosephMLombardo has fought hard to bring #SchoolChoice and that the Democrat leadership wouldn’t negotiate with him on this issue,” Gurr tweeted. “I’m sad because time is ticking, and hundreds of families will be devastated by this news.”
Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship program provides need-based tax credit scholarships for students who live in households with incomes at or below 300% of federal poverty guidelines. Currently around 1,400 students are utilizing the program, Gurr said in a LinkedIn post.
A cap has been placed on the program each year since it began in 2015, when it was limited to $5 million but allowed to increase by 10% the following year. It then got a $20 million one-time increase in 2017, but was later capped at just $6.66 million in 2019.
Since the decrease in funding, the number of students participating in the program has steadily dwindled.
Lombardo made it one of his priorities to expand the Opportunity Scholarship Program during Nevada’s most recent legislative session, by increasing the maximum income limit from 300% to 500% of the federal poverty level, and providing funding of $50 million for the program.
The school choice legislation received over 50 letters in support, including from parents and a union, Nevada Classified School Employees and Public Workers Association (NCSEPWA).
“The Opportunity Scholarship gave us the ability for my son to attend a school of our choice,” mother Ana Garcia wrote in a letter. “My son has ADHD and I have seen first-hand how the private school has helped him, not only with his grades but his self-esteem since one of the purposes of this school is to develop leadership in the children.”
“We feel by strengthening charter schools, giving parents choices in where their children go to school, funding early childhood development and giving more opportunities and incentives to become teachers will help diversify the K-12 education system in Nevada,” NCSEPWA argued.
The Lion reached out to Gurr but did not receive comment in time for publication.