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Some Positive News at First Deadline – Legislative Update

As this 80th session of the Nevada Legislature reached Day 68 (of 120), this week marked its first major legislative deadline – all bills must have been passed out of their first assigned committee (or be granted exemption) to be eligible to continue to advance.  A number of positive developments occurred this week on proposals we are tracking.

Staying Alive – Opportunity Scholarships

Opportunity Scholarship program proposal, SB351, was approved by the Senate Education Committee to be moved on to the Finance Committee, meeting the deadline requirement on the final day.  The measure, authored by Senator Heidi Seevers Gansert, seeks to restore $20 million in funding for the program while adding scholarship eligibility for special-needs students and strengthening program measures of student outcomes.

Also voted forward by the Committee on Friday was a new choice scholarship model, SB 404, proposing to offer scholarships specifically targeted to grow capacity in two of Nevada’s most acute areas of educational need: career and technical education and early childhood education. Household income eligibility requirements would be the same as the Opportunity Scholarship.

This first-of-its-kind plan includes provisions that would permit scholarships to be used for early childhood programs at private, public charter or even traditional district schools in ways that would foster growth of available, high-quality seats as evaluated under the Nevada Quality Rating and Improvement System.  For high school students, eligible programs must offer strong academics toward completion of standard high school diplomas or Nevada Certificate of High School Equivalency in addition to industry-recognized credentials.

Meanwhile, a setback for Opportunity Scholarships moved ahead as AB458, a bill from Assembly leadership to cut the 10 percent annual funding increase for available scholarship dollars in current law, was voted through the Assembly Taxation Committee.

Charter Schools Avoid a Scare

Increased Authorizer Oversight on the Horizon

Nevada’s public charter schools received two important pieces of good news this week.  First, Assembly Education Committee deleted a proposed moratorium or, “pause,” on the approval of new charter schools the committee had proposed last month.

Chairman Thompson explained that the approved package is a bipartisan plan,  under which the State Public Charter School Authority must draft a five-year growth management plan for success, conduct required site evaluations of schools in its portfolio, and “work closely with school districts to ensure schools are comprised of diverse populations.”  Charter school leaders resoundingly praised the plan as a cooperative agreement focused on school quality.

A second, extremely encouraging development for the charter sector came when Governor Sisolak announced his appointment of Rebecca Feiden as the new director of the State Public Charter School Authority.  The Governor described Feiden, for whose candidacy charter school leaders had expressed broad support, as “a lifelong educator with both administrative and classroom experience in charter schools,” who is “uniquely qualified to lead the SPCSA… as we set course to improve Nevada’s public education system.”  We wish Rebecca the best of luck in this important new role.

Private Schools Day Takes Over Carson City

Thursday marked the first Private Schools Day at the Nevada Legislature, led by the Nevada Council for American Private Education, the state’s newly-established association of private schools.  Leaders, students and educators met lawmakers and members of the public throughout the day, sharing their stories about their schools and feelings about what Nevada’s strong private school education has meant to them and their families.  They represented schools displaying the broad diversity of the sector, large and small schools including independent academies, programs designed to serve the educational needs of students with special needs on the autism spectrum, and faith-based schools representing five different religions.

Nevada Action’s Don Soifer appeared on Kevin Wall‘s Live and Local radio show April 10, 2019, on 790 Talk in Southern Nevada and the Nevada Talk Network.  This interview updates latest developments about charter schools and the proposed moratorium, private school choice and the Nevada Opportunity Scholarship program, and Nevada Private Schools Day at the Legislature on April 11, with the new Nevada private schools association he helped launch, the Nevada Council for American Private Education.

News from Carson City

Moratorium on New Charter Schools Proposed

AB 462, sponsored by the Assembly Committee on Education, would “prohibit the approval of an application to operate a charter school or the execution of a charter contract with the governing body of a new charter school,” by any of Nevada’s charter school authorizers, until 2021.

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools, open to any student, granted certain operating and hiring autonomy in exchange for demonstrating satisfactory student outcomes. More than half of Nevada charter schools earned a 4- or 5- star rating, the highest scores on Nevada’s school performance framework. Nearly 75 percent earned at least a 3- star rating.

Today, more than 50,000 Nevada elementary and secondary students attend charter schools located across the state. These schools are operated under the oversight and supervision of the State Public Charter School Authority, the Achievement School District (Clark County only), or individual school districts.

If you feel strongly about this bills please Click Here to let the legislature know your feelings!

Proposed Opportunity Scholarship Funding Cut

AB 458, also proposed by the Assembly Education Committee and referred to the Committee on Taxation, seeks to cut current funding to the Opportunity Scholarship Program by eliminating the ten percent annual escalator increase in present law.

Current law would provide $6,655,000 in available tax credits for Scholarship Grant Organizations to raise to fund scholarships for the 2018-19 school year, and $7,320,500 for 2019-20, with funding for future years to increase by ten percent annually.  This proposal would limit available tax credits to fund the program at the 2018-19 level and strip out the annual increase.

Meanwhile, proposed SB 351, sponsored by Senator Heidi Seevers Gansert and 7 Republican colleagues, proposes to authorize up to $10 million in tax credits for each fiscal year, along with other changes.  Neither of the two bills has been scheduled a hearing as of this writing.

If you feel strongly about these bills please Click Here to let the legislature know your feelings!

Quote of the Week: “I want to emphasize that the focus here is on teacher retention. If we could retain our teachers, we wouldn’t need to work so hard to recruit.” Assemblywoman (and CCSD middle school teacher) Brittney Miller

Would PreK Expansion Program Include Schools of Choice?

AB 253, sponsored by Assemblywomen Connie Munk and Daniele Monroe-Moreno, proposes to support increased program-level capacity for early childhood education.  The bill as originally drafted had allowed all schools – traditional public, public charter, and private – to apply for resources to create or expand prekindergarten education programs.

But at Thursday’s Assembly Education meeting, the bill’s sponsors announced that they had amended the proposal at the last minute to exclude private schools from eligibility (although public charter schools would still be able to apply for grants).

Testimony in opposition of the plan by the United Way of Southern Nevada and others argued that the exclusion of private providers would compromise the proposed plan’s effectiveness to serve lower-income communities in Las Vegas. Chairman Tyrone Thompson observed that in his own experience, private, faith-based providers has much to offer underserved communities.  Stay tuned.

If you feel strongly about this bill please Click Here to let the legislature know your feelings!

Nevada Action’s Don Soifer on ChoiceMedia.TV’s Education Story of the Day – check out the short video here.


Gansert Proposal Would Preserve Opportunity Scholarship Program

A new bill introduced this week, SB 351 sponsored by Senator Heidi Seevers Gansert and seven others, would preserve and enhance the Opportunity Scholarship program’s ability to serve income-eligible students by:

  • Restoring funding for the program to 2017 levels;
  • Extending eligible tax credits for scholarships to include the insurance premium tax (making it easier for scholarship organization to raise dollars for scholarships);
  • Establishing that students diagnosed with certain disabilities are eligible to receive Opportunity Scholarships regardless of household income level;
  • Stipulating an external evaluation of academic progress by students in the program based on norm-referenced assessments currently used, conducted by an NSHE institution.

Last month the program’s official evaluation report issued by the Nevada Department of Education concluded that 68.4 percent of students participating in the program for all three of its years showed positive academic gains on assessments; 65.7 percent of students in the program for two consecutive students also posted outcomes deemed positive by the NDE analysts.


Achievement School District Plans?

SB 321, sponsored by education chairs Denis and Thompson, along with Senators Dondero Loop, Woodhouse, Brooks and Parks. Under the language in the proposal, the ASD’s currently-operating charter schools would have their contracts transferred immediately to the State Public Charter School Authority, and be required to seek approval from one of the state’s other charter school sponsors by July, 2020, or be closed.

The State Public Charter School Authority’s own proposal, AB78, proposes to shift the Achievement School District to within the Authority, while retaining its current statutory functions and systems.

Currently, over 90 percent of students attending current Achievement School District Schools are black or Hispanic and qualify for Free or Reduced-Priced Lunches under federal guidelines. Democracy Prep Agassi Campus, one of these schools, is home to the only four or five star middle school within five miles (the other three ASD schools have not yet received star ratings).

Achievement School District Director Rebecca Feiden is one of three finalists for the current vacancy for Executive Director of the State Public Charter School Authority.