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COMMENTARY: Opportunity Scholarship program vital to Nevada kids

Parenting is a hard job. Yet any mom or dad will tell you that all the sleepless nights and stressful days are well worth the effort to see their child grow into a successful adult.

While everyone’s definitions of “successful” may differ, I think most Nevada parents believe their child deserves a quality education in a safe environment. I believe it, too, especially now that my kids can attend a school that meets their needs.

We tried the school the Clark County School District had assigned us to attend. However, student learning rates in critical subjects such as math and reading were well below where they should have been. For English language learners — such as my children — the data painted a grim picture of low expectations and limited options. The school’s lack of student progress and increasingly unsafe environment made me realize that I would need to find another option for my children to receive the education they deserve. As their mother, I had an obligation to do whatever I could to give them the best chance for success.

Three years ago, I applied for the Education Savings Account program, but it remained unfunded even though thousands of families like mine fought hard for it. Last year, I applied for the Opportunity Scholarship. After the Legislature allocated another $20 million to the program — which allows families with limited incomes to send their children to participating private schools — my children, Julia, Estella and Cesar were finally given scholarships.

This program is so popular, however, that hundreds of students are still stuck on a waiting list. Before this program was available, the beginning of each school year would always be a difficult time for me, as the ability to provide a supportive learning environment for my children remained hopelessly out of reach. However, all that changed when state lawmakers added $20 million in program funding last session. Words cannot express how grateful and life-changing this opportunity has been for both me and my children. Now my children are able to attend a private school that accepts their scholarships.

Without the barrier of tuition, I was able to choose a school that provided the resources my children need to be successful now and for years to come. Because of the courage of legislative leaders to put kids first, we not only gained a scholarship — we gained a school family. Now, I know that one day when they graduate, they’ll be ready for success in college.

I am so thankful to Nevada leaders for investing in my children and thousands more who finally got the chance to go to the school of their choice.

Unfortunately, the funding increase that allowed me to send my children to a school they are thriving in was a one-time boost. New Gov. Steve Sisolak has said he might not provide funding for program. This would mean that many students — including my own — could lose their scholarships and have to go back to schools that weren’t working for them.

As a Nevada parent and a former special-education teacher, it is my hope that legislators will continue their investment next year and for years to come by making the funding permanent for this important program. The children of Nevada and their future are counting on it.

Alicia Manzano writes from Las Vegas.

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