102°F
weather icon Clear

Education savings accounts get hearing but no action in Carson City

CARSON CITY — Education savings accounts, a Republican priority allowing parents to tap state funding to send their children to private schools, received a long-awaited hearing Monday as lawmakers try to end a stalemate and avoid sending the 2017 Legislature into overtime.

As introduced, Senate Bill 506 sponsored by Gov. Brian Sandoval seeks $60 million over the upcoming two years to fund the program.

Democrats have been staunch in their opposition, arguing taxpayer dollars should be used to improve public schools and that the voucher-like system would help wealthy residents who can afford to pay for private school.

But Republicans counter that school choice is a priority for all parents, and they dug in their heels, threatening to hold up marijuana taxes and the budget unless the accounts are funded.

Mike Willden, Sandoval’s chief of staff, told members of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees that SB506 is a priority of the governor.

Under the bill, households with incomes below 180 percent of the federal poverty level, or a child with a disability, would receive 100 percent of the state per-pupil support – roughly $5,900 in each of the next two years.

Families with higher incomes could receive 90 percent of the amount, and grants would be issued on a first-come, first-served basis.

Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, said Nevada is near the bottom of education rankings, and that the focus should be on improving public schools instead of giving tax dollars to private or religious schools.

“I recognize when talking about choice there’s an appetite to spread it around to everyone,” Frierson said. But he argued it’s “difficult to justify” helping wealthy families pay private tuition when Nevada is “behind Mississippi” in public funding.

Willden said Sandoval believes school choice should be universal and available to anyone to help parents decide what’s best for their children. He said Sandoval last year pumped more than $1 billion into public education and that ESAs are just an extension of programs to improve education overall.

Assemblyman Justin Watkins, D-Las Vegas, an ESA supporter, proposed a conceptual amendment as a partisan bridge to compromise.

“I don’t think ESAs are evil,” Watkins said, adding ESAs were the most popular issue during last year’s campaign.

He proposed funding ESAs by offering private businesses tax breaks for program donations, and suggested capping available tax breaks at $15 million a year.

He also suggested a sliding scale of benefits, giving low income students more money to afford private school than those from wealthier families.

“My hope is this framework … can provide a bridge between the two sides,” Watkins said.

ESAs were approved by the Republican-controlled 2015 Legislature, but they were sidelined when the Nevada Supreme Court said they must have a separate funding source outside the public school account.

Willden said about 10,000 applications have been received since the program was first authorized, but only 2,600 have been completed.

No action was taken by the committees, and the hearing stretched late into the evening.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
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.
THE LATEST
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.