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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.

Don Soifer Testimony in Opposition to AB 458

On Behalf of Nevada Action for School Options

May 2, 2019

Dear Chairwoman Dondero Loop and Members of the Revenue and Economic Development Committee,

Thank you for the opportunity to offer this testimony on AB458. I regret that I am unable to present this testimony in person, and am grateful for your consideration.

We at Nevada Action for School Options are opposed to this proposed reduction in allowable tax credit revenues to fund the Educational Choice Scholarships, or Opportunity Scholarship Program. We hope that this Committee will consider the four proposed conceptual amendments at the conclusion of this testimony.

We oppose this proposal for the following three reasons:

First, this is an extremely popular program, and much more broadly than among scholarship participants. This was in strong evidence when Nevada Action published a scientific poll of Nevada adults earlier this year. Among the findings:

  • 68% of all Nevadans support the Opportunity Scholarship program, while only 29% oppose it. Support polled highest among (in order): middle-aged adults, millennials, African-Americans, and those living in Nevada’s suburbs.
  • More than two-thirds of Nevada’s Hispanics (70%) and African-Americans (69%) support Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship program. Support was even higher among Hispanic parents (74%) and African-American parents (70%).
  • Nevadans identifying themselves as Democrats also strongly support Opportunity Scholarships (70% support, 27% oppose). Among Republicans, 71% support and 27% oppose the program.

Second, student outcomes in the program are particularly strong, and compare favorably with other education reforms.

The 2019 Nevada Department of Education report showed 68 percent of students participating in the program for all three of its years showed positive score change on norm-referenced assessments, as did 66 percent of students in the program for two consecutive years.

Please keep in mind that between 2017 and 2018, Nevada public school students gained one percentage point of proficiency in English Language Arts, and 1.5 percentage points in math. The tests are different, of course, but the comparison offers useful context. It is also worth being mindful that these are all lower-income students, with an average household income of under $46,000, and with a substantial number coming from less-than-optimal educational experiences in their prior school settings.

Third, the program represents a bargain for taxpayer in several ways. The average scholarship size, $4,500, is far less than average per-pupil expenditures in public schools. As a result, private schools’ boards contribute millions of dollars each year so that scholarship students can attend their schools. And with the U.S. Census projecting that Nevada will need some 250,000 new seats in schools over the next ten years, the private philanthropy and other cost savings associated with building private schools are no small consideration in this climate of tight tax revenue.

Finally, we know that this relatively young program is still evolving, and contains some inevitable program inefficiencies which we know can be improved upon. In this spirit, we offer the following policy recommendations which we would be happy to discuss at anytime.

Thank you.

Proposed Conceptual Amendments to AB 458


  1. Fund the Nevada Department of Education $30,000 to contract with an independent evaluator to design and conduct a quantitative analysis of student outcomes, with an emphasis on longitudinal academic growth, for participating Opportunity Scholarship Program students.
  2. Stipulate that Scholarship Organizations provide families an alternative to requiring students provide filed tax returns of all adults in the household for specified periods. Require, and provide resources for, NDE to sample SGOs for adhering to income eligibility guidelines and other regulatory and statutory requirements.  This requirement has been identified as a barrier for the poorest students’ participation in the program.
  3. Give the authority to the Nevada Department of Education to audit the application and acceptance practices of Scholarship Organizations, to ensure adherence to NDE regulations.
  4. Clarify that any monies received by a Scholarship Organization for the purposes of scholarships must be transferred to another Scholarship Organization in the event that it loses its standing with NDE.


Amendment Language

Part I:

Amend chapter   388D of NRS by adding thereto a new section to read as follows:

The Department of Education:

Shall initiate a request for proposal from institutions within the Nevada System of Higher Education for a quantitative analysis of outcome data of pupils participating in the Nevada Educational Choice Scholarship Program.

Shall conduct a study which contains an analysis of:

(a) The year-to-year longitudinal progress of pupils participating in the Program;

(b) The   number   of   students   meeting   or   exceeding   typical growth as determined by the publisher of the assessment;

(c) Other academic outcome data for pupils participating in the program, as measured by their performance on approved norm-referenced tests

When complete, the results of the evaluation must be provided contemporaneously  to   the   Department and the Legislative Committee on Education.

There   is   hereby   appropriated   from   the   State General Fund to the Department of Education the sum of $30,000 for the purpose of contracting with an independent evaluator to conduct an evaluation pursuant to [subsection, section] of this act.

Part II:

Amend chapter 388D.270 (1) of NRS by adding thereto a new section to read as follows:

  • provide eligible pupils under section (e) an alternative as part of their application process which does not requiring them to provide filed tax returns of all adults in the household for specified periods.


Part III:

Amend chapter 388D of NRS by adding thereto a new section to read as follows:

NRS 388D.290 Department of Education Validation of Scholarship Organizations

  1. The Department of Education shall conduct a review of Scholarship Organization practices by reviewing a statistical sample of scholarships awarded by reviewing documentation, to be provided by Scholarship Organizations, not to exceed 5 percent of the total number of scholarships awarded.
  2. This review shall confirm that Scholarship Organizations are adhering to income eligibility guidelines and other regulatory and statutory requirements of this program.
  3. When complete, the results of the evaluation must be provided contemporaneously to the Department and the Legislative Committee on Education.

Part IV:

Amend chapter 388D.270 (1) of NRS by adding thereto a new section to read as follows:

Should the Department of Education determine that a Scholarship Organization is in substantial and repeated violation of regulations established under 388D.270 (6), the Department may revoke the Organization’s approval to provide scholarships under section. 388D.250 of NRS.

Should a Scholarship Organization’s status be revoked by the Nevada Department of Education under this section, it shall transfer all funds collected as donations from taxpayers under this program to another approved Scholarship Organization to be used to provide scholarships in accordance with Chapter 388D.270.


Don Soifer Testimony In Support of AB 342

On Behalf of Nevada Action for School Options

April 23, 2019


Dear Chairman Denis and Members of the Education Committee,

Thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony in support of AB342, which has strong potential to make an important difference in the educational experiences of Nevada’s military-connected students.

In my work as an education researcher I have been fortunate to get to spend time studying and observing schools serving military installations at many bases and states around the country, publishing two major Gates Foundation-funded white papers and a dozen articles about different aspects of this important work. One recurring recommendation throughout that research has been the value of a strong and functional state commission or council to lead the work related to the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which Nevada does not currently have in place.

That may sound like a lot of jargon, but the work of effective state councils has proven important in many ways. On average, these students experience six to nine school changes during the course of their K-12 careers, generally moving across state lines where different state content standards and learning sequences are in use. Moreover, frequent challenges associated with the life of an active-duty family presents well-documented educational hardships, both academic and otherwise.

Right now there is essential work to be done in Nevada implementing the new Military Student Identifier required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. I am not aware that the Nevada Department of Education has made any significant progress to date implementing this requirement. Done right, this data tool will support educators, families, administrators, and policymakers to better understand whether, and how, these students and the schools they attend are succeeding — and why. It also will help inform military families about which schools may be the best fit for their children’s needs.

Targeted professional development for educators serving this essential population about how they can most effectively meet the specific needs of students’ lives as members of active-duty-connected families, expediting systematic intake of student information, including Individualized Education Plans for special-needs students, spearheading direct support for students, including social and emotional supports using district and military resources. and other areas are topics these state councils have advanced for the betterment of the communities they serve.

The designated school liaison detailed in section 4 also has important potential toward these outcomes.

A strong Council such as that advanced in this bill, will support that important work, and other priorities such as keeping the legislature and other governmental entities informed about progress, challenges and developments which can make a powerful difference in the educational experience of military-connected students and their families.

I commend Assemblyman Roberts and the sponsors of AB 342, and encourage this committee to support it.