Next Up Blog

Don Soifer, Nevada Action president, was interviewed on May 30, 2019 on Kevin Wall Live and Local on 790 Talk in Southern Nevada and the Nevada Talk Network.  He updated the latest developments in the Nevada Legislature relating to the Opportunity Scholarship program and expectations for the final week of the session


Ten-minute video interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Victor Joecks from Nevada Action’s “command post” in Carson City updates the latest news and developments about the Opportunity Scholarship program, charter schools, and other education news in the final five days of the Nevada Legislature’s 2019 session.

Soifer talks about prospects for school choice as Legislature winds down


Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship program is relatively tiny — during the most recent, 2018-19 school year, 2,300 income-eligible students received scholarships statewide.  Nonetheless, it remains one of Nevada’s most popular education programs, across nearly every group measured, according to a scientific 2019 poll published in February.

Overall, 68 percent of all Nevadans support the Opportunity Scholarship program, while only 29 percent oppose it. Support polled highest among (in order): middle-aged adults, millennials, African-Americans, and those living in Nevada’s suburbs.

The program’s popularity is widespread. More than two-thirds of Hispanics (70 percent) and African-Americans (69 percent) support Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship program. Support was even higher among Hispanic parents (74 percent) and African-American parents (70 percent).

In fact, the poll found that, when the interviewer included a brief explanatory note about the program, respondents who identified themselves as Democrats living in Clark County expressed support for the Opportunity Scholarship program at a rate of 68 percent in favor and 27 percent opposed. Without the added definition, support from this group was still quite strong — 44 percent in support and 13 percent opposed.

Nevadans who were “strongly opposed” to the Opportunity Scholarship program were much more likely to be from higher-income households (18 percent with annual incomes greater than $60,000) than low-income homes (7 percent with incomes below $40,000).

The Opportunity Scholarship program began in 2015.  It permits students from households whose income falls within 300 percent of the federal poverty line to apply for scholarships to attend participating private schools.  The average scholarship size was approximately $4,500, and the average annual household income for recipients is $45,694, according to the Nevada Department of Education. Businesses receive tax credits against their Modified Business Tax liability in the amount of their approved contributions.

The full polling methodology, including scripts and data, is published online here.

Don Soifer, Nevada Action for School Options

Testimony in Neutral to SB543

Before the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Committees

May 21, 2019


Chair Woodhouse, Chair Carlton and Committee Members, I am Don Soifer from Nevada Action for School Options and I appreciate this opportunity to provide testimony about SB543.

We are deeply appreciative for the commitment to supporting equity for all students from which this proposal has emanated. Our recommendations here are offered with the goal of making the most of this historic chance to advance equity of educational opportunities.

The current draft of SB543 proposes to provide additional weighted funding (Section 3) to each student who is: an English Learner, an at-risk pupil, a student with a disability or a gifted and talented pupil. Section 16 defines an “at-risk pupil” as “a pupil who is eligible for free or reduced-price lunches pursuant to 42 USC, or an alternative measure prescribed by the SBOE.”

Nevada can now at this crucial juncture benefit from the lessons of other states that have reformed their school funding formulas to support their educational needs. Our first recommendation is that the Nevada Department of Education undertake a serious review initiative, and that the Legislature should use the interim period as a study period to consider our best options for serving our specific educational needs.

The present legislative draft selects an understandable starting point for defining “at-risk” students, given that 50 percent of Nevada eighth graders who are eligible for the federal program demonstrated math skills at “Below Basic” levels in 2017 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, while only 21 percent of students from higher-income homes did so. It should be treated as just this, a starting point.

Its implications mean that a student eligible for reduced-price lunches under the federal guidelines, which can be indicate household income of up to 185% of federal poverty levels, is funded at the same level as students with risk factors including homelessness, in foster care, being over-aged and under-accredited in high school, or the other risk factors including those listed below, regardless of how many different are present with a particular student.

For schools striving to be more proactive addressing the needs of their at-risk students, early identification of risk factors matched with supports to mitigate risk, access to targeted resources is vital to their success.

Researchers now understand more about the ways a child’s brain responds to trauma and toxic stress in their lives, both in terms of cognition and expression, often leading to executive functioning impairments that also impair classroom learning. Effectively-targeted resources can support schools for such strategies.

As Nevada educators work hard to become the fastest-improving state in the nation for elementary and secondary education, to meet the goals of our state plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, growth in grade-level proficiency is central to this progress. We must not, however, do this at the cost of ignoring the urgent needs of students grappling to rise above the below-basic level of math and reading skills, whose impact on Nevada’s economy will be every bit as profound.

For the 7 percent of Nevada children living in extreme poverty (50 percent of the federal poverty line), or the 2,000+ unaccompanied homeless children and youth, nine out of ten of these considered unsheltered, these decisions will especially matter. (Children’s Advocacy Alliance, 2018 Nevada Children’s Report Card)

Also for, as the Clark County Education Association noted in its 2019 Critical Issues report, schools primarily serving students of color and those living in poverty that suffer from teacher vacancies at a higher rate than other schools.

Understanding these aspects of our students’ lives makes these factors from other states’ at-risk funding designations especially pertinent:

  1. Below federal poverty guideline (Oregon, NC)
  2. National School Lunch Program – free only, (Kentucky, Colorado)
  3. National School Lunch Program – full weight for free, half weight for reduced (MN)
  4. Homeless, foster youth, an over-age high school student, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families eligible, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program eligible (Illinois, Washington DC)
  5. Unsatisfactory academic performance measured by standardized test performance (Utah, Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina)
  6. Two of the following: National School Lunch Program, habitual truancy, homeless, migrant, English language learners, recent immigrant (three years), over-age high school student (Michigan)[1]

The Denver Public Schools, for instance, enacted a system to budget approximately $500 for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and then additional targeted financial resources to students who are homeless, in the foster care system, and whose families receive food stamps.

Funding for at-risk students in the District of Columbia provides schools with additional resources targeted to support students who have experienced homelessness, the foster care system, high school students who are over-aged and under-accredited, and those eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs.

It will also be crucial that our public charter schools be no less resourced to support the students who need them most – for which they will be held accountable.

Our second recommendation observes that this bill’s current draft lacks any direct stipulation that weighted funding for charter school students be equal to that of their peers in other public schools. Although the authors’ intentions to establish this parity seems clear to us in this room, there will likely be value down the road in requiring this explicitly in statute, and in getting this intention onto the legislative record.

Thank you.


[1] Emily Parker and Michael Griffith, The Importance of At-Risk Funding, Education Commission of the States, June 2016, p. 4.

More than half of incoming students matriculating at institutions belonging to the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) require placement in remedial programs, according to the system’s leaders.

Data from NSHE indicates that Nevada’s charter school students require remedial placement at significantly lower rates than other Nevada public high school graduates.

NSHE Remedial Placement, Classes of 2015 and 2016

Charter High SchoolAverage % Placed in Remediation
Beacon Academy67.9%
Nevada Virtual Academy55.3%
Nevada Connections Academy54.2%
Nevada State High School41.9%
Coral Academy of Science NV (Clark)30.6%
Coral Academy of Science (Washoe) 30.6%
Total State Charter Authority High Schools48.8%
Nevada State Public School Average52.7%
Clark County School District (traditional)55.1%
Carson City School District44.5%
Elko County School District53.6%
Lyon County School District50.0%
Washoe County School District (traditional)45.6%

Nevada System of Higher Education, Department of Institutional Research, 2019

Chancellor Thom Reilly has declared it a top leadership priority to rebuild his system’s system of remediation to better foster student success in their pursuit of higher education attainment. He is respected for working collaboratively with elementary and secondary education leaders, like Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara and others, to better align both systems so that high school graduates are better prepared for the academic rigors awaiting them. That work signifies an important beginning.

The average rate for Nevada high school graduates, as incoming students to NSHE institutions, requiring placement into remedial programs (for either English Language Arts or math) was 52.7 percent for the two most recent years which NSHE has studied.

Overall, graduates of charter high schools overseen by the State Public Charter School Authority were placed in remediation programs at a lower rate, 48.8 percent, than the state average.

These rates of required remediation vary widely for graduates of different high schools across Nevada.

Nevada’s Coral Academy of Science graduates, in both Northern and Southern Nevada, posted the lowest rates of remediation placement of any open-enrollment public high school in Nevada over the most recent two-year period as measured by NSHE: the high school classes of 2015 and 2016 averaged just 30.6 percent remedial placement in both locations.

Nevada State High School graduates also posted college remedial placement rates well below the state average, at 41.9 percent. In addition this Las Vegas charter high school (which has since expanded to other locations), with its strong emphasis on dual-enrollment courses, posted an astonishing 4-year cohort graduation rate of 99 percent for this same graduating class.

A distinct disappointment for Nevada’s charter sector was the high rates of remedial placement required for graduates of its two statewide virtual charter schools. Students enrolling in NSHE institutions from Nevada Connections Academy and Nevada Virtual Academy each required remediation at the college level more than 54 percent of the time, above the state average and the collective remediation rates of all of its five largest school districts. Additionally, these two schools also posted among the sector’s lowest four-year cohort graduation rates.

Beacon Academy in Las Vegas, whose graduates posted the charter sector’s highest rates of remediation, is a specialized alternative high school structured to meet the specific needs of credit-deficient students.

Of course, wide ranges in remediation rates are also common among traditional district schools. For instance, within the Clark County School District, even among graduates of non-selective high schools with 4-year graduation rates closest to 80 percent, Chaparral High School had the highest remediation rate at 83 percent, followed by Centennial (58 percent), Rancho (56 percent) and Silverado (52 percent), with the lowest rates of remediation for Desert Oasis graduates at 48 percent.

Providing graduates with the academic foundations to be “college and career ready” is widely viewed to be as crucial as any goal in elementary and secondary education. Last fall, when Nevada high school juniors posted their first statewide improvements in scores on the ACT exam in the four years, this development was widely described by education officials as a positive step toward improving readiness. It would also be useful for NSHE officials to track how Nevada’s private high school graduates fare with regard to needed remediation as well.

Chancellor Reilly’s strategy of monitoring remediation placements holds real value for education policymakers, educators and families alike. Placement data for the Class of 2017 will be released soon, and hopefully can trigger more data-informed deliberation about what is working, and what should be working better, to move Nevada’s high school graduates to a stronger position of readiness.