A sizeable percentage of Nevadans favor increased school choice, but desperate opponents are resorting to deceptive tactics in a bid to protect the status quo.
Assembly Bill 400, introduced on behalf of Gov. Joe Lombardo, seeks a host of educational changes, including boosting funding for the Nevada Educational Choice Scholarship Program, often referred to as Opportunity Scholarships. The goal is to free families to make education decisions that work best for them, rather than forcing them into a one-size-fits-all system.
But opponents are trying to muddy the waters with politically loaded language, classifying Opportunity Scholarships as vouchers.
Opportunity Scholarships are “essentially vouchers that go to help fund (private) schools …” Assembly Leader Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas, said earlier this month.
Actually, vouchers are a set amount of state education spending that every child is eligible to receive if they want to choose a private school. It comes out of the general education fund and can be sent to the private school to defray tuition expense. Nevada does not allow the use of education vouchers.
Opportunity Scholarships, on the other hand, are financed through corporate donations to scholarship-granting organizations. Corporations get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for making these donations, meaning no money allocated for public schools goes to fund Nevada students using Opportunity Scholarships.
The latter also differs in Nevada in that there’s an annual cap on the aggregate amount of tax credits that can be claimed, and Opportunity Scholarships have an income eligibility threshold – they’re reserved for lower-income families.
Nevada began its Opportunity Scholarship program in 2015 with $5 million in tax credits. Tax-credit donations were to increase by 10 percent each year, but in 2019, after the Democrats gained control in Carson City, the growth provision was eliminated from the program. Funding has been at capped at $6.66 million since then.
AB 400 would bump that amount to $25 million a year and decree subsequent increases until it reaches $250 million annually in 2032.
This doesn’t sit well with teachers unions. The Nevada State Education Association recently equated Opportunity Scholarships with vouchers.
NSEA, which represents public school teachers in the state, came out against AB 400 last month, in part because the bill would include “a massive expansion of private school vouchers.” The union also erroneously claimed additional money for Opportunity Scholarships would come from state education funding.
“Opponents of public education point to Nevada’s struggling schools to argue for more school ‘choice,’ or in other words, the diversion of public money to private schools through private school vouchers,” the union said in a statement on April 26.
Some media outlets use the two terms interchangeably, as well.
Consider an April 27 article about AB 400 in the Nevada Current, which was later reprinted in the Reno Gazette-Journal, under the headline “Lombardo proposal for ‘aggressive expansion’ of school vouchers gets icy reception from Dems.” The story’s first sentence described a proposal to bolster money for Opportunity Scholarships as “Ramping up the state’s private school voucher program to $250 million in funding annually.”
Unfortunately, there is a significant contingent in Nevada that views children first and foremost as a funding mechanism for government entities, rather than individuals who should have the chance to find the education system that works best for them.
Intentionally misleading the public to undermine support for expanding the Opportunity Scholarship program may benefit politicians and unions, but it hurts Nevada’s children, which means it hurts the entire state.