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Nevada’s 2019 legislative session was a turbulent one for education – what should we make of its outcomes?  More importantly, what are the paths forward for Nevada families seeking the best educational options to meet their children’s needs?  Which policies emerging from Carson City will prove the most impactful, and the most useful, to help educators meet those needs?  Which leave the most work in front of us to get things on track for Nevada’s dynamic education growth?  Where do we expect Nevada’s education, and especially its schools of choice, to go from here?

Don Soifer, Nevada Action president, addresses these and other questions in this 20-minute interview from June 13, 2019 with host Kevin Wall on his Live and Local radio program, airing on 790 Talk in Southern Nevada and the 8 other radio stations across the Nevada Talk Network.

Nevada Action for School Options congratulates Nevada’s families and students on making it through another turbulent session of their biennial legislature, for the most part incrementally better off than they began it.

In a session marred unforgettably by the tragic loss of principled and magnetic Assembly Education Committee Chairman Tyrone Thompson, final policy impacts represented neither the best nor worst of times. Nevadans’ educational opportunities will not be dramatically altered as a result of the past 120 days. There were some modest improvements, which include:

  • An overhaul modernization of the “Nevada Plan,” our five-decades-old public school funding formula, represented useful progress and a meaningful step toward improving equity in educational opportunities for all students, including those attending the most underperforming schools. As always, details of the plan’s implementation, and funding transparency will likely prove crucially important.  Our main recommendations focused on improving funding definitions for at-risk students for more usefully addressing Nevada’s particular areas of need, and codifying funding parity for charter school students.
  • The contraction of Nevada’s tiny and universally popular Opportunity Scholarship Program — while good news for the 2,300 lower income students statewide currently receiving scholarships, it was regrettably unfortunate that the legislature decided to cut off opening the program to new students (for the most part).
  • Charter school students in Nevada will generally be better off, with initial steps taken to improve funding parity with other public school students, a more strategic new oversight framework, and a talented new leader in State Public Charter School Authority Director Rebecca Feiden.

This session was also characterized by successfully escaping other, problematic policy changes, some of them coming from well-intended decisionmakers:

  • A proposed moratorium to block the opening of new public charter schools was averted, and we are pleased with our role having helped improve the resulting strategic oversight plan with a focus on successfully serving more of the students who need quality charters most.
  • While we are disappointed at the elimination of the Achievement School District, we are glad that our recommendations for the smooth and seamless transition of the four current and two approved schools it operated to a new home at the State Charter School Authority.
  • Legislative leaders’ abrupt choice to strip provisions of the popular Education Savings Account program will not hurt any current students because funding was never enacted. It will cost Nevadans, or at least delay, the potential nexus of innovative learning opportunities.

Nevada Action for School Options’ founder and president Don Soifer noted, “We need to remember that the last-day plan driven by leadership of each chamber is built on what are widely understood to be dubious foundations, shakily-constructed in Nevada’s constitution. Policy details matter when in comes to their supporting quality educational opportunities, and many of those details are still taking shape.”

Soifer continued, “The likely outcome will be a series of court decisions in the coming months, which just might pull the rug out from much of what was resolved in the final days of the session.

“Our first-ever legislative session sharpened our commitment to advancing quality educational opportunities equitably for all Nevada students and will remain just as fervent as ever in the months and years to come.”

Finally, the real highlight of this session was the admirable and capable of a diverse collection of leaders from across Nevada’s education spectrum, from proven champions like Senator Scott Hammond and Clark County Black Caucus Chair Yvette Willliams to emerging advocates for quality schools like Kris Schneider, chairman of the new Nevada Council for American Private Education; Mater Academy charter school leader for equity Renee Fairless and brand new, innovative lawmaker and high school teacher Selena Torres.

Watch our email, Twitter and Facebook updates as developments happen.

 

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.