104°F
weather icon Clear

Mixed results in study of Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarships

A new study of a scholarship program for low-income students in Nevada could provide ammunition to both advocates and critics of the tax-credit-subsidized initiative.

A small portion of the low-income students attending private schools through a scholarship program funded by tax credits have shown “positive” testing results, according to a new Department of Education report. But more than a third of the students saw their scores decrease during their time in private schools.

The results could drum up support for the program, known as the Nevada Choice Educational Scholarship or Opportunity Scholarship program, during a legislative session that has not seen any strong push for or against continuing the initiative.

Of the students who took one of six assessment tests for at least two successive years, 66 percent maintained or increased their score — a result that the report classifies as positive.

But only 26 percent of those students actually increased their score from year to year. And roughly 34 percent saw their scores decrease.

Measuring the academic success of the program introduced in 2015 and funded by Nevada businesses in exchange for tax credits, however, is challenging.

Recipients of the scholarships must have a household income that’s no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level — or $77,250 for a family of four. This school year, the average household income for participants was $45,694.

Schools that accept scholarship recipients are required to provide an approved assessment each year and report those results to the state.

Small sample size

But only 149 students have test scores that can be tracked throughout multiple years for numerous reasons, including changing schools. That’s a fraction of the 2,308 students who received roughly $12.4 million in scholarships this year.

“We would love to have a large sample size in the future, and I think we will if the program continues,” said Melissa Schroeder, who oversees the program for the state Department of Education.

It’s unclear how much money the program will receive this year.

State law established a reserve of $5 million that businesses could claim in tax credits for 2015-16 — an amount that grows by 110 percent every year. But the program benefited from a political deadlock over another school-choice funding program, Educational Savings Accounts, two years ago.

When Republicans couldn’t pass funding for the controversial accounts, the Legislature approved a one-time infusion of $20 million in tax credits to Opportunity Scholarships instead — adding a significant funding boost.

Although former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval proposed another $20 million for this biennium, new Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak made no mention of more funding for the program in his proposed budget.

A spokeswoman for Sisolak did not respond to requests for comment.

Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, said he does not think there will be any attempt to get rid of the program.

But it will likely be a challenge to add more money to a school-choice program during a legislative session that will feature a heavy push for public-education funding.

‘A different discussion’

“If we were fully funding education like we need to, this would be a totally different discussion, I think,” Denis said. “But we’re not, and there’s a lot of kids that are missing out on opportunities because we’re not fully funding public education.”

The Clark County School District opposes the expansion of Opportunity Scholarships, which it says draw “much-needed funds from public education to select students.”

Proponents of the program are hoping it will remain intact, but they are also wishing for more funding.

“If they could fund another $20 million, it would just continue to do the great work that we’re doing in the community,” said Michele Morgan, executive director of Dinosaurs and Roses, an organization that grants such scholarships.

Kim Dyson, president and CEO of the AAA Scholarship Foundation, which also grants the scholarships, said the program has seen “overwhelming demand” from economically challenged families.

“The additional tax credits provided during 2017 session have enabled many more students to afford to attend eligible schools that best meet their unique learning needs,” Dyson said in an email. “AAA Scholarship Foundation hopes the Nevada Legislature continues this life-changing program so that economically challenged families and their children can continue to have access to the schools that are working for them.”

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey 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
 
2 Las Vegas schools cancel classes after power failure

More than 3,000 students were evacuated from schools on the east side of Las Vegas Thursday morning after power outages left classrooms sweltering.