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Opportunity Scholarships backers urge defeat of bill to cap amount

Updated April 4, 2019 - 7:52 pm

Students and parents who receive the Opportunity Scholarship funded through tax deductible donations called upon the heavens this week to stop a bill that would cap the amount given to the program.

The legislation, passed in the Republican-controlled 2015 legislative session, allows businesses to donate money toward private-school tuition for low-income students in exchange for a tax write-off.

Families with an income of no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for the money.

Since its inception, the money awarded to students has skyrocketed from $3.2 million for 541 students in 2015-16 to $11.8 million for 2,306 students in 2018-19, according to a previous Review-Journal analysis.

Current state law increased the money available for such tax write-offs by 110 percent each year to $6,655,000 for fiscal year 2018-19.

But AB458 would cap the program at that amount permanently, eliminating the initiative’s annual growth.

On Tuesday, parents and students led by the Nevada School Choice Coalition held hands and prayed for the program to continue with the same — if not more — funding as currently prescribed by law.

Parents also told legislators on Thursday about the positive impact such scholarships have had on their families.

Amy Bauer, who has two children on the scholarships, said public schools did not care about the advanced education level of her two eldest children.

But the scholarship program allowed her to place them in a school environment where they are thriving and loved, she said.

“Without the growth, how are we to be sure that our smaller children will be able to be in the program too?” she said. “The 10 percent (growth) is necessary to families doing the scholarship.”

Alicia Manzano, who has three children on the scholarship, said they attend a good school with a safe environment.

Today, she said, she is much calmer knowing that her students attend a safe school that challenges them.

But the bill got support from the Nevada State Education Association and others who argued for adequate funding to be given to public schools.

“Every single dollar counts, and we believe taxpayer dollars should go where there’s accountability and results,” said Amanda Morgan of Educate Nevada Now. “Our taxpayers deserve that, but more importantly our students deserve a high-quality public education, and if there’s a 10 percent growth factor, that should be in Nevada’s public schools.”

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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