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Nevada Republicans may have lost ESAs now, but fight isn’t over

Updated June 6, 2017 - 10:33 pm

CARSON CITY — The battle may have been lost on Education Savings Accounts in the 2017 session of the Nevada Legislature, but the war will continue in the next go-round for lawmakers in 2019.

The failure to fund the program using state funds to help parents pay for private school for their children is a bitter pill for Republican lawmakers, GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, private school operators and the thousands of parents who signed up to participate.

While Republicans will push hard for the program next session, Democrats and their allies will be ready to push back just as hard.

After getting the ESA program passed in the 2015 session and then seeing the original funding mechanism rejected by the Nevada Supreme Court, expectations were high that Sandoval could use his negotiating skills to get it through in 2017.

But Democrats held firm on the issue, and ultimately a deal was struck that did not include what Republicans call school choice and what opponents call vouchers.

Asked if ESA supporters should continue to pursue funding in future legislative sessions, Sandoval said: “Absolutely.”

He added: “It’s still in the law. ESAs are a part of our law. Obviously, it’s the financial component. The politics just weren’t there this session and there was a lot of opposition to it.”

Alternate solution

But Sandoval was pleased with a solution being found to add money to a scholarship program, calling it a worthwhile compromise.

“What you have to equate that to is the number of kids that are going to be served,” he said. “This is going to allow hundreds of more young men and women to have access and parents to the schools of their choice.”

Assembly Minority Leader Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, was philosophical about the ESA loss. He noted that the Opportunity Scholarship program was first proposed in 2013 it didn’t even get a hearing. But it has since been approved (in 2015), and now has a $20 million infusion.

The same process of getting people on board with ESAs will happen as well, he said.

“If you look at the growth and expansion of school choice in Nevada, it is a path that Nevadans want.” Anderson said. “The progression toward ESAs is where Nevadans want to go and we will continue that fight.

“Obviously ESAs was our hill to die for this session. We’ll come back to fight that fight another day.”

But any ESA fight won’t be pretty.

Democrats and their allies remain firmly opposed and can point to their victory this session.

“The rejection of vouchers by the Nevada Legislature is a testament to an unprecedented grassroots campaign of parents, educators and taxpayers who stood up for public education over the last five months,” said Sylvia Lazos, policy director of Educate Nevada Now. “This sends a strong bipartisan message of support for the 460,000 students and thousands of teachers in Nevada’s public schools. This, along with other key education bills that were passed, makes us hopeful about the future of education in Nevada.”

Battle Born Progress Executive Director Annette Magnus said in a statement: “We are thankful that the Legislature put the needs of all of Nevada’s children before the needs of a few by keeping our public money in our public schools.”

“This is a major victory for Nevadans and the coalition of organizations that have fought tirelessly against this failed and dangerous voucher scheme since its inception,” she said.

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

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