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Legislature moves leave ESA funding bill homeless

Updated May 12, 2017 - 12:04 pm

CARSON CITY — The controversial Education Savings Account program sought by Gov. Brian Sandoval and Republican lawmakers is now homeless.

Both the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees on Friday independently closed the budgets for the state Treasurer’s Office, removing all funding for the program that would provide about $5,200 to parents to send their children to private school.

Sandoval has included $60 million for the ESA program in his budget.

The vote by the panels is not the death knell for the program, however. The vote only removes the program from the Treasurer’s budget.

Senate Bill 506, which is in the Senate Finance Committee, would establish the ESA program through a new Office of Educational Choice.

That bill has not had a hearing and the clock is ticking on the 2017 session, though. If SB506 is approved, the funding would flow to this new agency to administer the program.

Senate Finance Chairwoman Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, said SB506 will get a hearing “in the next few weeks.”

The Legislature has to adjourn by June 5.

“I personally believe the discussion will center around SB506,” said Ways and Means Chairwoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, during a discussion of the issue by the committee.

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, said the vote is not the end of the policy debate.

“This is a consideration of how we’re going to have the debate,” he said.

Assemblywoman Robin Titus, R-Wellington, voted against the motion in Ways and Means.

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, said in the Senate Finance discussion that any ESA program approved by lawmakers could end up at some amount other than what has been proposed by Sandoval.

The ESA program is arguably the biggest sticking point in the session, with Democrats who control both houses not enamored with the program, first approved in 2015 when Republicans controlled the Legislature. The program stalled when the Nevada Supreme Court ruled the funding mechanism was unconstitutional.

Sandoval said this week that negotiations on the program continue with Democratic leaders.

Critics call it a voucher plan.

In a statement, the Nevada State Education Association called for the $60 million to be re-appropriated to critical public education funding needs.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

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