What’s next for school choice legislation in Nevada?
Opportunity scholarships, alternative education and even education savings accounts may be on the table as the 2023 Legislature convenes.
Gov. Joe Lombardo announced in his State of the State earlier this week that he planned to create an Office of School Choice within the Department of Education, giving Nevada families more choices in their children’s education beyond traditional public schools.
But Lombardo also told the Review-Journal he wouldn’t use his veto power over the state budget to advance a school choice agenda, and that it would instead require better communication between lawmakers during the next legislative session.
School choice proponents have advocated for the state to fund more alternatives to public school, be they private or charter schools or even homeschooling, but the platform has historically met pushback from Nevada’s Democrat-majority Legislature.
Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, a former Clark County School District teacher, says that past Nevada legislative sessions have seen schisms that were representative of the political divides happening on the national level, but that that dynamic seems to have petered out.
Ahead of the next legislative session, Hammond says constituents can expect legislators to come together and get back to where Nevada has always been: doing what needs to be done for Nevadans.
That includes being innovative about how to improve education in the state.
“We can deliver education a lot of different ways, and I think a lot of people recognize that on both sides,” he said.
This session, Hammond says upcoming bill proposals related to school choice will include legislation that will allow for expanded charter school capabilities and a bill that would allow students to conduct schooling and receive credit outside the traditional school building, like during internships.
“That to me is school choice as well,” Hammond said.
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In his State of the State address, Lombardo also said he was looking forward to working with Sen. Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, to put a record amount of funding toward opportunity scholarships, which are awarded to low-income students attending private schools.
Hammond said he also plans to continue pushing for education savings accounts, which allow parents to take money that would have followed their children through public schools and instead use it toward other educational options, though he’s not sure where the Legislature will land on that issue.
Hammond sponsored the education savings account bill in 2015, sparking a lawsuit. The Nevada Supreme Court later struck down the method for funding the program, although it upheld the law as constitutional. Republicans sought to fund it in 2017, but failed to get the votes. Majority Democrats later repealed the program entirely during the 2019 session.
Hammond pointed to programs like the state’s Transforming Opportunities for Toddlers and Students (TOTS) grant program, which helps students with disabilities pay for school expenses, as an example of a successful program that people are using and using widely with accountability measures to ensure that people aren’t wasting the money they’re given.
Lombardo called education savings accounts and opportunity scholarships “small bites” of the larger apple of school choice.
“You’re going to have to take small bites, until we can all get on the same shoes,” he said. “…hopefully, we can have a sense of compromise moving forward via some communications.”
email@example.com. Follow her at @lolonghi on Twitter. Review-Journal reporter Jessica Hill contributed to this story.Lorraine Longhi at 702-387-5298 or