Nevada Enacts Country’s Biggest-Ever School Choice Program

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Blake Neff Reporter
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Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has signed a law giving the state the country’s most far-reaching school choice law.

The bill, passed on a strict party-line vote through the Republican-controlled legislature, implements a form of school choice called an education savings account (ESA), which has already been implemented in four other states.

Education savings accounts give parents control over their child’s share of public school funding and lets them direct it towards other purposes, such as getting an outside tutor or paying tuition at a private school. While similar to school vouchers, ESAs are somewhat different because they rely on giving parents money to use as they wish, rather than sending funds directly to private schools. This allows for more flexibility, such as parents keeping their children enrolled part-time in public schools while also paying for outside lessons.

Nevada’s law is especially far-reaching, however, because the savings accounts are available to all students who have been enrolled for at least 100 days in the state’s public schools. In Mississippi, Tennessee and Florida, ESAs are only available to disabled students, while Arizona’s program is also open to students at failing schools.

In addition, Nevada’s law is extremely versatile in what spending it allows. Families can spend the money at any approved private school, including a religious one, or they can use it to hire a private tutor, pay for an online program, or even pay for transportation to their chosen school.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, an education think-tank, described the new law as “by far the broadest ESA [program]” yet created in the country. Coupled with Nevada’s charter school program and another bill passed earlier this year creating a tax-scholarship program for lower-income families, the Silver State has vaulted ahead to have what is likely the country’s most ambitious school choice regime.

For most participants, the ESA will only contain 90 percent of their state education funding allotment — about $5,100 — but for disabled and low-income children, all of their state funding will be placed into the ESA.

The bill’s passage was abrupt, as it was introduced on the last day new bills were allowed and then raced through the legislature in under a month in order to pass before recess.

Democrats have bashed the bill with fervor, arguing it guts underfunded public schools and unconstitutionally allows for taxpayer support of religious institutions.

Republicans have countered that the bill is a necessity created by the long-term failure of public schools.

“If our public schools weren’t so terrible, guess what, no one would use this option,” Republican Assemblyman David Gardner argued, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

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