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Parents, lawmakers talk ESAs at Nevada treasurer’s round table

Updated February 23, 2017 - 10:08 am

CARSON CITY — About a dozen parents who support funding for Education Savings Accounts weighed in on the proposal Thursday at a round table hosted by state Treasurer Dan Schwartz.

Parents from northern and Southern Nevada, who tuned in by teleconference, generally agreed that the program to provide $5,200 to enroll their children in private schools should be universal and not subject to an income test.

But the parents, recognizing that there is strong opposition to Gov. Brian Sandoval’s plan to put $60 million into the school choice measure, said more needs to be done to convince skeptics that it is a good idea for everyone.

Assemblyman Al Kramer, R-Carson City, who attended the discussion, noted that per pupil spending in the public schools is $8,000 or more, so a child attending a private school with $5,200 in state support would actually mean more money for public education.

Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, the author of the 2015 legislation, said there will be accountability with the program, including a requirement that a test be administered yearly to each child to measure educational progress.

Hammond is preparing new legislation to implement the ESA program after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled last year that it is constitutional, but that the funding mechanism was not.

The intent is to help average families have choices despite claims that the program will help only wealthy parents, he said.

“I’m worried about access to education,” Hammond said.

Trina Smith, a mother of seven foster children, with six being home schooled, said her children need more individualized attention than can be provided by the Washoe County School District.

“My kids need more than they were getting,” she said. “We want a classroom where they get more care.”

Taylor Brockelsby, a seventh-grader who attended the meeting with her mother Robin, said a fellow student is afraid to go to school for fear of being beaten up. There are not enough teachers to make sure her school is safe, Taylor said.

Jim Bathgate, who home schools his 10-year-old twins in Carson City, said it is expensive for the single-income family.

“I have to pay for all the curriculum myself,” he said. “Would something be better than nothing? Absolutely.”

But funding for ESAs is in doubt. No Democrats supported the legislation in 2015, and they now control both houses of the Legislature.

The debate won’t begin in earnest until Hammond’s bill making some changes to the program, and the funding measure, are introduced.

The treasurer’s office would administer the ESA program, and Schwartz is a strong supporter.

“There are certainly good schools and there are certainly good teachers, but unfortunately there are a lot of bad schools and a lot of teachers who aren’t doing what they should be doing” Schwartz said.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

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