weather icon Clear

Nevada scholarship program benefits from political deadlock over ESAs

A small scholarship program for low-income Nevada students got a $20 million boost in funding last week when legislators couldn’t come to terms on education savings accounts, or ESAs.

Opportunity Scholarships, which are awarded through the Nevada Educational Choice Scholarship Program, were the beneficiary of the political deadlock, receiving the one-time funding infusion as a balm to Republicans who had hoped to steer $60 million to fund ESAs over the biennium.

Launched after the 2015 legislative session, the scholarship program provides money for lower-income students to attend private schools or pay for other educational programs, like dual-credit courses. Since its inception, more than 1,600 scholarships have been awarded.

“It’s a program that has a track record of working,” said Brett Barley, a deputy superintendent in the state Department of Education. “We also know there’s incredible demand from families across the state. The dollars have gone quickly.”

(Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Families with incomes of up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line can apply for a scholarship through one of four registered nonprofits. If they are accepted, the nonprofits connect them with a private school, determine the scholarship amount and pay the schools directly.

Funded by tax credits

The scholarships are funded through businesses that donate to the nonprofits in lieu of paying the state’s modified business tax.

The program was capped at $5 million for the first year in 2015 and is allowed to grow 10 percent each year. Businesses can claim up to the amount owed under the modified business tax, and donations must be approved by the Department of Taxation.

For the 2017-18 year, businesses will be able to donate a maximum of just over $26 million to the program. Under Senate Bill 555, the $20 million added by the Legislature will not be included in the 10 percent growth figure next year.

The funding was a compromise between legislators who couldn’t come to a deal to fund education savings accounts.

Last week, Gov. Brian Sandoval told reporters he was disappointed that ESA legislation didn’t work out but called the Opportunity Scholarship deal a worthwhile compromise.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about money,” he said. “It’s about kids and now these kids — more kids in our state — will have access to the school of their choice.”

ESAs vs. Opportunity Scholarships

The ESA program, which remains on the books in Nevada but is unfunded, is more universal than the Opportunity Scholarships. With ESAs, there was no income limit to apply and the money would go directly to families to be spent on the school of their choosing.

Although ESAs weren’t funded in Nevada this session, school choice experts expect the conversations to continue.

Sam Abrams, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, said tax-credit scholarships like Nevada’s program are often more palatable than school vouchers or ESAs. Other states with such scholarships have either expanded eligibility to serve more students or maintained eligibility requirements but allowed more money into the programs over the years.

That might also happen in Nevada if the makeup of the Legislature stays the same in the future, Abrams said.

“Unless they have a Republican House and Senate it seems dead,” he said of ESAs.

Not all those who study school-choice programs agree.

“We know that this isn’t stopping the momentum. We know that ESAs are the future,” said Robert Enlow, the president and CEO of EdChoice, a school reform nonprofit. “We know that this debate is going to get harder and harder in legislatures because they’re getting closer and closer to true radical change.”

For more information on how to apply for a scholarship, visit the Nevada Department of Education website at doe.nv.gov.


Contact Meghin Delaney at mdelaney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0281. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

Registered Scholarship Grant Organizations by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - Video
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - Video
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
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)