Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo has introduced a short-term strategy aimed at shoring up a private school scholarship initiative, following the rejection of a proposal by Democratic lawmakers earlier this week. The proposal, which involved utilizing unallocated federal funds, was turned down.
Late on Friday, the Republican governor disclosed that the AAA Scholarship Foundation, a private scholarship organization central to Nevada’s ongoing school choice discussion, has volunteered to use its reserve funds to ensure that students who meet state criteria will not lose access to scholarships this year. Governor Lombardo expressed his gratitude for the organization’s gesture.
However, the governor emphasized that unless legislative Democrats cooperate to establish a lasting solution, students might be compelled to leave their current schools and return to institutions that have previously failed to cater to their distinct educational requirements.
During a Wednesday session, the state’s Interim Finance Committee voted along party lines, with Democratic members opposing the governor’s initial proposition to allocate $3.2 million from federal coronavirus relief funds to sustain existing scholarships. This decision, which came at the conclusion of a lengthy 12-hour hearing, marked another setback in Lombardo’s endeavors to prioritize school choice within Nevada’s increasingly rare divided-party government.
The term “school choice” generally refers to publicly funded programs designed to broaden access to various educational options, including private or charter schools, homeschooling, or hybrid models.
This debate has underscored the divide between Nevada’s relatively moderate Republican governor and the Democratic-controlled Legislature, echoing similar disagreements witnessed in other state legislatures across the nation.
Nevada ranks low in national per-pupil funding rankings, and both urban and rural schools confront challenges like teacher shortages, inadequate funding, aging infrastructure, and overcrowded classrooms. While proponents of school choice argue that it provides students with more alternatives, particularly those who do not thrive in traditional public schools, Democratic lawmakers contend that channeling public funds towards private schools could exacerbate the resource constraints already faced by public schools.
Originally, Lombardo aimed to broaden eligibility and allocate an additional $50 million to Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship program, established by the Republican-dominated Legislature in 2015. This initiative enables businesses to receive tax credits for donations that contribute to the tuition expenses of predominantly low-income students attending private and religious schools.
To secure a scholarship for the upcoming academic year, eligible parents are required to apply directly to the AAA Scholarship Foundation. The application deadline is set for September 11.
Prominent Democratic legislators have argued that the reserve funds within the Opportunity Scholarship program should be sufficient to cover all presently enrolled students. They have described the program as flawed, highlighting the disproportionate allocation of funding to a single scholarship-granting organization based on a first-come, first-served basis.