Gov. Joe Lombardo wants to breathe new life into Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship program.
Lombardo has proposed expanding the program through Assembly Bill 400, which would bolster education options for families seeking schools best suited to their children’s needs.
AB 400 would provide a record $50 million for Opportunity Scholarships and would also amend eligibility requirements. Currently, families earning less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level (less than $90,000) are eligible; the bill would increase that figure to 500 percent, or less than $150,000.
Lombardo also wants to expand the program going forward, doubling funding to $100 million for the 2025-2027 legislative biennium and increasing that figure every two years until it reaches $500 million in fiscal year 2032.
“Funding the Opportunity Scholarship program is about fighting for equality in education by giving low- and middle-income families the resources they need to access the same educational options and classrooms that are currently only available to wealthy families,” said Erin Phillips of Power2Parent, a parental rights organization.
Opportunity Scholarships are needed because Nevada’s children are falling behind “on almost all fronts,” Phillips added.
The number of Opportunity Scholarship recipients could increase to approximately 5,000 students per year with passage of AB 400, with potential for additional growth if more funding is available, said Valeria Gurr of the American Federation for Children.
Some 1,602 Nevada students received Opportunity Scholarships during the 2021-2022 school year.
The Opportunity Scholarship program began in 2015 with $5 million. That figure was bumped to $25 million in 2017, but funding was reduced nearly 74 percent in 2019, when a $6.66 million cap was put in place.
Program expansion would enable more low- and middle-income students to receive Opportunity Scholarships. These students benefit from participation in education choice programs, research demonstrates.
A Nevada Policy study on the potential impact of expanding Opportunity Scholarships to more Nevada families found it could save millions of dollars each year. These funds could then be redirected to benefit students who choose to remain in public schools.
In addition to expanding the Opportunity Scholarship program, AB 400 would also create an Office of School Choice within the Nevada Department of Education, to provide information to families on education options.
It would also allow charter schools to apply for public money to bus children to campuses.
Providing more options in education by approving more funding for Opportunity Scholarships and removing barriers to entry for new education providers would empower thousands of Nevada families currently struggling in their local zoned public schools.