What is the Nevada voucher program?
Nevada’s Education Savings Accounts or vouchers provide parents public funds to attend private school with no restrictions based on income level, special education status, or other factors, meaning even wealthy families can receive subsidies. Voucher programs in the country have not had any proven results and in many cases have resulted in resegregation and worse student outcomes.
In Nevada, the majority of applicants were from the wealthiest zip codes and zoned for the highest achieving schools, disproving the idea that vouchers are supposed to help families who need it most. Additionally, the majority of private schools cost well more than the vouchers and did not requires admission of all students, leaving them inaccessible for low-income families. The Nevada voucher program does not check for accountability of funds or follow-up on achievement growth for students.
In June 2015, Nevada passed a voucher bill, SB302, that paid for private school stipends using funds from the general public education budget. A groups of parents with children in public school challenged the constitutionality of Lopez vs. Schwartz, with the support of Educate Nevada Now. The Nevada Supreme court halted the program, declaring the funding mechanism (using funds meant for schools to give to private schools) as unconstitutional.
Voucher Funding Bill Defeated
Press Release: Educate Nevada Now, powered by the Rogers Foundation, would like to publically thank all the senators and assembly members who stood strong against vouchers and also pushed for other successful education initiatives like a Weighted Funding Formula, and the continuation of ZOOM and Victory Schools. Read More
History of NV’s Voucher Program
SB302 Bill passes declaring the first private school voucher program for the State of Nevada.
A group of parents whose children attend Nevada public schools filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s new ESA voucher law. Lopez vs. Schwartz argued against draining funds from an already strapped public education budget to provide to private schools. The lawsuit, which was supported by ENN and other pro-bono attorney groups gained national media attention.
The Clark County District court granted an injunction halting the program from moving forward given that the program would have diverted a portion of the money appropriated for the public schools to be used for something other than public education.
The Nevada Supreme Court declares the funding mechanism as unconstitutional for the following reasons:
- The voucher bill funneled money out of the public school funding appropriation.
- The public school appropriation bill is constitutionally protected.
As a result the program would no longer be “universal” given that it would have to draw a finite appropriation established by the legislature.
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval declares in his State of the State an intention to fund the voucher program with $60 million.
ENN co-chairs the newly formed #PublicMoneyPublicSchools political action coalition in partnership with the ACLU of Nevada, Battle Born Progress and Nevada State Educators Association with the goal to fight vouchers bills in the upcoming session and drawing on the support of their constituents to help defeat vouchers.
Governor Sandoval introduced SB506 – a bill to create an account in the states’ general fund to pay for the voucher program (ESAs).
After a tense battle and down-to-the-wire vote, the general fund, SB546, gets approved without any funds appropriated for the voucher program declaring a defeat of vouchers and a win for Nevada’s children. Legislators instead agree to expand funds for Opportunity Scholarships as a compromise.
The fight against vouchers
Lopez vs. Schwartz
In June 2015, Nevada passed a voucher bill, SB302, that paid for private school stipends using funds from the general public education budget. A groups of parents with children in public school challenged the constitutionality of Lopez vs. Schwartz, with the support of Educate Nevada Now. The Nevada Supreme court halted the program, declaring the funding mechanism (using funds meant for schools to give to private schools) as unconstitutionall for the following reasons:
- The voucher bill was not an appropriation; it simply funneled money out of the public school funding appropriation bill (SB 515), and
- The public school appropriation bill is constitutionally protected. Money for public education must be set aside first, before all other State expenditures, and cannot be diverted to other programs, such as the voucher program.
Although the Nevada Treasurer’s office had already begun taking applications, there was no money for the program and the judge declared an injunction on the process, which the treasurer’s office continued to violate.
What is the Opportunity Scholarship?.
During the 2015 session, the Nevada Legislatures created the Opportunity Scholarship Program (AB 165). This program allows private companies to receive tax credits from the State of Nevada for making donations to “scholarship organizations.” These scholarship organizations then grant students scholarships to attend private school. A student’s household income must be less than 300% of the federal poverty line to participate in the program with priority based on lowest income and lowest zoned school rating. Students must also take norm referenced tests that are closely aligned with national standard and core academics. It is important to note that Opportunity Scholarships in other states have faced issues, such as instances of misuse and abuse when not appropriately regulated or monitored. So like any program, it’s important to continue to track the program’s usage and effectiveness.
During the 2017 Nevada legislative session, there were an additional $20 million in tax credits for the Opportunity Scholarship approved over the biennium to companies participating in the scholarship program. This is a one-time allocation.