weather icon Clear

Dealings continue at Nevada Legislature in battle to fund ESAs

Updated May 26, 2017 - 3:28 pm

In an effort to ensure their priority bills avoid the veto hammer, Democrats likely must approve a program they abhor.

Nevada’s education savings account program sits in limbo as Democrats and Republicans try to find middle ground on funding with days remaining in the 2017 legislative session. Democrats have the majority in both the Assembly and Senate, but not the two-thirds supermajority needed to override a veto.

Sources with knowledge of the negotiations say they expect Democrats to settle on an ESA funding measure of $20 million to $30 million — a fraction of the $60 million Gov. Brian Sandoval requested. And they say the program will likely have a more restrictive application system, something akin to a sliding scale based on family income rather than the current open-application process.

GOP caucus leaders have indicated the governor is willing to press on the throat of the issue to make sure his landmark program gets funded.

“We are not leaving until that happens, ” Senate Minority Whip Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, told Nevada Newsmakers in a recent interview.

Republicans have threatened to vote against any budget that doesn’t include funding for the program.

“No ESA funding … No Budget,” Senate Minority Leader Sen. Michael Roberson said in January.

But to get funding, Sandoval will likely have to sign off on Democratic priorities such as minimum wage, workers’ rights and criminal justice reform.

Sandoval said both Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford have been willing to work with him to amend measures they want passed so he will consider signing them into law.

“This has been an ongoing conversation on a variety of issues,” he said. “Nothing happens in a vacuum.”

With 10 days remaining in the Legislature, time for dealing is dwindling. And how those deals play out over the final days is anyone’s guess.


Created in 2015, the ESA program would give parents a portion of the state per-pupil funding allow parents to spend that money on private or religious school tuition. The state Supreme Court ruled the program is legal, but funding cannot come out of the state’s public education budget.

Democrats have uniformly opposed the program, saying they disagree with using public tax money to pay for private schools.

“I do think it’s inappropriate to ask for public money on the one hand and not want to comply with our anti-discrimination laws on the other hand,” Ford said in a hearing Thursday about an amended bill to exempt private schools from anti-bullying training.

But Ford may have to approve an ESA funding plan so Sandoval does not veto Democratic priorities.

For most of the session, the two sides could not have been further apart on a deal. But as the Legislature nears its finale, the sides inch closer to a deal.

In March, Ford vowed that Senate Bill 359, to fund education savings accounts, would not be heard. But state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, who leads the finance committee, told reporters this month that the governor’s funding bill — identical to SB 359 — would get a hearing.

Sandoval also appears to softening on some issues.

One of Ford’s top priorities has been raising minimum wage from $7.25 an hour up to $11 or $12 depending on if the employer offers health insurance. Sandoval has repeatedly stated his opposition to any increase, but he told The Associated Press last week that for the first time in his seven years in office, he will consider raising the minimum.

Sandoval also said he is working with Frierson, D-Las Vegas, on a bill that would restore voting rights to felons.

Last-ditch campaigns

Lawmakers may be working towards a deal, but advocates on either side of the ESA fight are gearing up for a bitter political fight to end the legislative session.

The political arm for the American Federation for Children has run digital ads throughout the session promoting ESAs. And digital video ads from the group are planned to run next week featuring testimonials supporting the program.

The Nevada State Education Association, the state’s teachers union, has mailed fliers throughout the session trying to sway public opinion against the program.

What happens next

Both houses suspended their procedural rules for the Legislature’s final weeks, which is not uncommon at the end of a session. Bill hearings no longer have to be posted before they can be heard.

That means an ESA funding bill, be it Sandoval’s Senate Bill 506 or a yet-to-be-seen emergency bill, could be brought up at anytime, heard and voted on at an instant’s notice.

That likely won’t happen until that compromise is reached and Republicans know they have enough votes to pass the bill. And getting the Democratic votes needed to pass an ESA funding bill could be difficult.

In the Senate, two non-Republicans would need to vote for it. State Sen. Patricia Farley, now an independent, voted for the ESAs in 2015 as a Republican. The road in the Assembly might be bumpier. Republicans will need to flip seven Democrats and keep every Republican on board.

Denise Lasher, a senior adviser with American Federation for Children spent two days in Carson City with a group of Southern Nevadan pastors lobbying Democrats for their support.

Some Democrats openly shared their distaste for ESAs, Lasher said, but she believes a few Democrats might be coming around to the idea.

“I was really impressed that so many of them were going to keep an open mind on it,” Lasher said. “They didn’t say “No, absolutely not.’”

Sean Whaley contributed to this report. Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Lawsuit challenges Nevada’s new diabetes drug disclosure law

Two pharmaceutical groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of a bill passed by the 2017 Nevada Legislature requiring disclosure of the pricing of diabetes drugs.

Nevada Legislature approves final payment for ESA software

The final action on Nevada’s controversial private school choice program came Thursday when the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee approved $105,000 to pay off the remaining costs incurred by a vendor who was working on the development of software to implement the program.

Recall targets a third Nevada senator

A third recall petition against a female Nevada state senator was filed Wednesday.

Federal government approves Nevada’s education plan

Nevada is among four states to get U.S. Education Department approval of its plan as required under a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.