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VICTOR JOECKS: Lombardo offers table scraps to school choice supporters

Hope you never have anyone treat you the way Gov. Joe Lombardo just treated school choice supporters.

Lombardo spent months on the campaign trail touting his support for education reform. The top item in an education plan he promoted in September was school choice.

“To ensure every child has access to the best education possible, Joe will implement school choice initiatives that empower Nevada families,” Lombardo’s education plan said. That included “investing in Education Savings Accounts.” Lombardo vowed to “bring back accountability to our education system.”

Given how close the election was, Lombardo’s enthusiastic embrace of school choice may have won him the gubernatorial race.

But you wouldn’t know it from Lombardo’s State of the State speech. His education proposals bore little resemblance to what he told voters. The most disappointing was his call to increase education spending by $2 billion. Dumping an unprecedented amount of money into a broken system is an odd definition of accountability.

When it came to school choice, Lombardo offered little. There was no proposal for ESAs. His budget calls for only $50 million for the Opportunity Scholarship program. For every $40 in new education spending, there would be $1 for school choice. That’s a pittance.

In his inaugural address in early January, he called school choice a priority. On Monday, he couldn’t even be bothered to use his bully pulpit to make the case for it, like he did with election integrity.

Lombardo saved his passion for talking up Sen. Heidi Gansert. She’ll be sponsoring the Opportunity Scholarship bill. Gansert will probably use this to bolster her conservative credentials ahead of a U.S. Senate bid next year. Gansert has a long record as a liberal Republican, so she needs a shiny object to distract primary voters. My guess is that Lombardo is promoting her because they share consultants.

Transactional politics isn’t always bad. Donald Trump once supported legalized abortion. He later reversed himself. But what pro-life voters most wanted — and received — was his commitment to appointing Supreme Court justices who upheld the Constitution. Trump gave skeptical GOP voters something of immense value. Lombardo and Gansert are offering table scraps. The word betrayal comes to mind, especially given the political dynamics..

Democrats have commanding majorities in Carson City, and they remain captive to the education establishment, opposing school choice. Lombardo needs a way to incentivize them to vote for his Opportunity Scholarships proposal.

One week ago, the plan was obvious. Hold back on things Democrats want, such as wasting money on public education and big raises for state employees. Release chunks of money in exchange for reforms in education and other areas.

If Democrats refused to engage in a give-and-take, Lombardo could have denied them their desired spending increases. It would have been fiscally responsible and allowed Lombardo to draw a clear contrast for voters in 2024.

But Lombardo just gave away his leverage. He’s the one calling for $2 billion in new education spending and raises and bonuses for state employees. The Democrats don’t have to compromise. Lombardo capitulated. It’s likely $50 million for Opportunity Scholarships turns into $25 million or less.

This plan is so inept, it makes one wonder if Lombardo ever believed what he said about school choice. I hope he does. If Lombardo is serious about expanding choice, there’s still time to adjust course. Let the money follow the child. Condition new education funding on allowing students to use some of that money to exercise school choice if they aren’t satisfied with public schools.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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