CARSON CITY — Hundreds of people marched and rallied in Nevada’s capital Tuesday to kick off a week promoting school choice.
The groups of students, parents, teachers and administrators walked about a half-mile up the main drag in Carson City to the State Capital Mall, which houses the Nevada Legislature, Capitol and state Supreme Court. The event was part of National School Choice Week, which started in 2011 as a way to promote alternatives to traditional public schools and education.
“I can have my kids learn the way I know is best for them,” said Rebecca Gorton, 38, whose three children attend Nevada Connections Academy, a virtual charter school. “They’re being able to be taught to their own person.”
Some parents and advocates said they are worried about the fate of school choice programs like the Nevada Opportunity Scholarships because Democrats control the governor’s seat and both chambers of the Legislature.
Established in 2015, the scholarship program allows businesses to donate tuition money for low-income students in exchange for a tax write-off, money that can be used to pay for programs like dual-credit courses. Lawmakers in 2017 approved a $20 million, one-time funding boost for the program as part of a compromise in the fight over Education Savings Accounts.
Former Gov. Brian Sandoval included another $20 million in the budget proposal he handed off to new Gov. Steve Sisolak. That addition is not included in the budget proposal Sisolak released last week.
Without the infusion, the program would drop from about $18 million in annual funds for fiscal year 2019 to about $7.3 million for 2020.
“I am definitely worried,” said Lisa Friend, whose three children use the opportunity scholarships to attend private Lutheran schools in Carson City. Friend said the scholarships have helped her to afford to keep her children enrolled in those schools as a single parent.
Friend, 51, also spoke at the rally Tuesday and encouraged those in attendance to stay involved with the legislative process as lawmakers work on the state budget over the next few months. The session begins Feb. 4.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, told the Review-Journal this month that lawmakers will need to have more discussions about the opportunity scholarship program but added that it wouldn’t be fair to families who are using the program to eliminate it entirely.
“We have to be mindful of yanking it out from underneath those kids and those families,” he said.