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Advocates, parents rally in Carson City for school choice

Updated February 14, 2023 - 2:15 pm

CARSON CITY — School choice advocates, students and their parents gathered in front of the Legislature Monday to call for increased charter school funds and money for private school scholarships.

About a hundred people, including several children, led by Nevada School Choice Coalition Director Valeria Gurr, asked lawmakers to approve $50 million for Opportunity Scholarships, which help cover tuition for private schools, and capital funding for charter schools.

Gurr was joined by Senate Minority Leader Heidi Seevers Gansert, R-Reno, who spoke in support of opportunity scholarships.

“We’re very fortunate that Governor Lombardo put $50 million in the budget for Opportunity Scholarships,” Gansert said. “I’m really excited to sponsor the bill on opportunity scholarships. I’ve carried it every session I’ve been in the Senate because I know how critical it is for each of you to be able to choose the school that best fits your family.”

The Republican leader was joined by Sen. Carrie Buck, R-Henderson, president of the Pinecrest Foundation, a nonprofit that supports a string of charter schools in Southern Nevada.

“These schools are held back by the lack of financial equity with their traditional school counterparts,” Buck said. “Which is why this legislative session I will be introducing a bill that will allow state dollars to be used to fund public charter school facilities.”

Buck also said she would introduce bills to hold students back in elementary school if they are “behind in reading or math” and put any public school failing for three consecutive years under receivership through the Nevada Department of Education.

But lawmakers didn’t hear presentations on bills related to charter schools or Opportunity Scholarships Monday.

Members of the Senate Education Committee instead had held hearings on bills that would create a new task force and authorize education related studies during the time between legislative sessions.

Senate Bill 71, presented by Sen. Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, would create the Nevada State Education Support Professional Recruitment and Retention Advisory Task Force. It would address workforce shortages by examining issues involving support staff, including “paraprofessionals, security officers, school nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers, school bus drivers and clerical, food service, custodial and maintenance staff,” according to the text of the bill.

Shortages of support staff cause other issues in the classroom, said Chris Daly, a lobbyist for the Nevada State Education Association.

“Shortages of paraprofessionals compound problems related to teacher vacancies, compromising learning in the classroom,” Daly said. “The crisis is continuing. Today, the Clark County School District lists nearly 500 vacant support professional positions.”

Lawmakers also heard from state Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop, D-Las Vegas, who presented Senate Bill 72, which would allow a joint committee that studies education between sessions to examine the mental health and wellness of students; teacher workload; teacher licensing requirements; high school student achievement and graduation rates; and students requiring additional resources.

Recommendations of those studies will be brought back to the Legislature in 2025.

Contact Taylor R. Avery at TAvery@reviewjournal.com. Follow @travery98 on Twitter.

An earlier version of this story misidentified state Sen. Carrie Buck’s occupation. She is president of the nonprofit Pinecrest Foundation.

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