ESA update: What’s next for parents and students in Nevada?

Karen Gray

Hello again ESA friends,

Is anyone else’s head spinning? Or is it just mine?

I’m sure you are all probably aware by now it’s been announced that Governor Sandoval will not place ESA funding on agenda for the upcoming special session marked for Monday.

Now, when this announcement first came out, my emotions, and I’m sure yours too, ran the gamut — anger, frustration and even compassion towards the Governor. I pondered all day this email and what to say.

My first kneejerk reaction was to charge the Governor with caring more about a sports stadium and its big-money backers than the children of this state. But, as we all know, kneejerk reactions often aren’t levelheaded and are exactly the kind of reactions the opposition wants from us. Besides, I think Treasurer Dan Schwartz’s expression of disappointment eloquently stated what many parents are thinking: “The football stadium is certainly a boon to our economy, but the education of our children is priceless.”

Then, completely frustrated over all the partisan politics triggered by ESAs, I pondered a lot of outrageous possibilities. I spare you the gory details. Like I said, emotions were running the gamut.

But, a profound email I received from one parent actually worked me into a place of compassion for Sandoval. “We are truly blessed to have a man of integrity in our Governor's office,” wrote a member of this email list. So I envisioned the Governor standing alone, getting hit from every side of the political spectrum. Maybe parents could spring into action and give our Governor a coat of armor by putting on enough heat so he could stand tall for ESAs, knowing Nevada parents and community members had his back.

But I realized, a governor — or any elected official for that matter — of integrity would not need a shield. He or she would already be wearing a suit of armor.

Obviously, going through all these emotions, I was in no state to be writing any kind of email. So, I sauntered off to bed sometime after midnight. Somewhere between 2 and 3 a.m. it hit me. I knew what I would write. So, here I am wide awake. And, by the looks of Facebook, I’m not the only one losing sleep tonight.

Friends, I’m not going to dance around the elephant in the room — no pun intended. I’m going to give it to you straight. It’s what you deserve. It is your families and the lives and futures of your 8,000 children hanging in the balance.

Okay, we all know this, I’m not saying anything we don’t know, I’m just going to say it out loud: Nevada’s ESA program is a divided, partisan, political football. Frequently I’m asked, “Who voted for and against SB 302?” The record is, all Republicans voted for it and all Democrats voted against it. It’s that simple. And, it’s that difficult.

Nevada’s ESA program is the most comprehensive in the country and has overcome every constitutional challenge thrown at it. But Nevada’s lawmakers failed, say the courts, to correctly appropriate the program in 2015. So it remains unfunded. It’s that simple. And, it’s that difficult.

Governor Sandoval alone has the authority to allow an ESA appropriation bill on the agenda for the upcoming special session. He has yet to do so. It’s that simple. And, it’s that difficult.

In 2017, families across this state will continue to cling to the hope of the ESAs. The program will still be a partisan issue and the groups that want to keep your kids chained to their zip code public schools, regardless of the school’s performance or your child’s educational needs, will continue campaigning to keep ESAs unfunded — or dismantle the program altogether. It’s that simple — and, it’s that difficult.

But, I will tell you, I have traveled many miles in this state.  I have met thousands of parents. And, I’m witnessing the power of parents.

Parents know, and are completely irritated and frustrated, that ESA is a political football — again, no pun intended. Yet, they remain focused on what is best for their children. “Let’s try to make this a less partisan issue,” writes one parent on Facebook. And friends, those conversations, the ones to move ESAs beyond partisan politics, are taking place.

In one Facebook thread, a parent writes, “prayer is the only sure thing that works! And voting correctly!”

“Well,” writes another parent in a different conversation, “the problem is voting republican puts me in opposition of some very strongly held beliefs.” Reading the conversation, it was obvious, Nevada parents are contemplating seriously their priorities — party affiliation versus their children.

Now, I know by hanging the facts out on the line, there’s a risk that some of you will find this whole situation just too difficult.

But, after watching the changing conversations and beholding the passion and resolve I’ve seen from Nevada parents, I can see ESAs crossing the finish line. I can envision a program where the partisan politics are lessened. It’s not simple, but I can see it.

Believe me, I know you are tired. You are ticked. And you are exhausted. With all honesty, I too am running on empty. But if I know nothing else, I know with a 100 percent surety, that if you do nothing, nothing will change.

So friends, let’s dig down, dig way down deep into the pit of our stomachs, pull out that fire within us and fight to push ESAs across the finish line.

I don’t know what that fight looks like for you. That is as individual as each ESA child who’s hanging in limbo. I will, however, share what others are doing.

Several parents have suggested writing to all lawmakers, introducing individually each child to them and telling representatives why the ESA is important for that child. One parent commented that she has already received two replies. Folks, there are 8,000 applications. That potentially could mean 8,000 emails to lawmakers — taking little Isabella, Trent, Marissa, Madison and all the other children from being mere statistics to being real, living kids that legislators have to face.

So, if you want to make to your child real to lawmakers, or, if you just want to let them know your feelings and thoughts about the ESA program, you can find a directory of emails for state Senators here and the Assembly Members here.

If you don’t know already, you can find who your legislators are if you enter your address here. It will link you to your Nevada representatives.

Other parents are continuing to call and email Governor Sandoval. If you missed it previously, you, your family and your friends can share your thoughts with Governor Sandoval, by email at or by phone at 775-684-5670.

Now, it’s all I can do to poke around Facebook. But, over the last week, I’ve learned a little about Twitter, hash-tagging, tweeting and retweeting. To be honest, the mechanics are way above my head. But, it appears it’s a great way to reach representatives. While I don’t know the twitter handles for each legislator, or even where to find them, I do know that hashtag #NVleg is a good place to find twitter handles and have your voice heard. I also know, you can find the Governor on Twitter at @GovSandoval. If you use #LetOurChildrenSucceed in your social media posts and tweets, I will probably be able to find it.

I don’t know much, but friends, there’s one final thing I have learned about social media: it’s far more effective to share and retweet something than it is to “like” it.

Before I close, I want to be sure to recognize Treasurer Dan Schwartz and his amazing team for all their dedication, hard work and continued efforts to get ESAs across the finish line. I also want to thank Attorney General Adam Laxalt, his fantabulous legal team and the Institute for Justice for fighting so diligently for Nevada’s children.

Be sure to reach out to them and give your appreciation.

Thank you for your indulgence.