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School voucher proposal withdrawn by committee

CARSON CITY — A bill that would have allowed up to 10 percent of public school students who attended a school defined as needing improvement to go to a private school instead under a voucher program was withdrawn Wednesday by the Senate Human Resources and Education Committee.

Senate Bill 305, supported by panel Chairman Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, was withdrawn in favor of a second, more limited measure that would allow special education students to attend private schools.

Senate Bill 158, introduced by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, passed the committee on a 4-2 vote with one abstention. Voting no were Sens. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, and Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson.

In testimony on her bill in March, Cegavske said her proposal was called the Special Needs Scholarship Program, which would allow children with individualized education programs to enroll in private schools and public schools other than those that they are zoned to attend.

Cegavske said at the March hearing that children with special needs require a higher degree of individualized attention than students in regular education programs, so it is preferable to provide the widest array of options to special-needs students when selecting a school.

Washington said Cegavske’s measure was at least a start toward a program of vouchers for public school students. If the program works for this group of students, the Legislature in future years could consider expanding it, he said.

Senate Bill 158 would have the Department of Education administer the program. The agency would be responsible for granting, revoking and certifying the eligibility of the participating schools. The eligible school chosen by the parents would receive the proportionate cost of the public funding to provide instruction to the child.

Students would have to apply for the scholarship to be eligible to participate in the program.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote. If approved, it will be considered by the Assembly.

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