Legislative Update: Deadline Week

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.