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Nevada Legislators Block Proposal to Use COVID-19 Funding for Scholarships

'My administration grieves with the hundreds of students who will be crushed by Democrats removing them from their friends, teachers, and schools,' said Governor Joe Lombardo

The Nevada legislature has voted against a proposal from Governor Joe Lombardo to use unallocated federal COVID-19 funds for private school scholarship programs.

Lombardo has been an advocate for expanding school choice in Nevada. He said the unallocated $3.24 million would prevent students from losing their Opportunity Scholarships, an existing program that helps low-income families cover tuition costs for private or religious schools in lieu of attending public school

Democratic lawmakers on the state’s Interim Finance Committee voted against the proposal on Aug. 9 after a hearing that lasted 12 hours. 

When he proposed the plan, Lombardo said he had “been fighting for these children since [he] took office” and stressed the importance of ensuring the Opportunity Scholarships remain funded. His office estimated that 30 students’ scholarships were at risk. 

“The Democrats in the Legislature refused to fund these scholarships, and the result is that unless we take action now, these children will be forced out of their schools for the upcoming school year,” he said in a July 28 press release. “It’s unacceptable to me to let that happen.”

State Democrats disputed the program’s need for additional funding.  

Interim Finance Committee chairwoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno alleged that Lombardo is trying to “supplement a voucher program that already has plenty of money.”

“His administration has allowed one organization to hoard all the tax credits, ultimately manufacturing this crisis,” said Monroe-Moreno, per AP News

During the debate, Democrats on the 22-person committee argued that the money is not equally distributed under the Educational Choice Scholarship Program. The AAA Scholarship Foundation reportedly took the majority of the funding and has $13 million in reserves. Some members questioned why the issue of scholarship funding distribution was discussed during the last legislative session. State Senator Rochelle Nguyen called the issue a “manufactured crisis.”

“This doesn’t appear like a lack of funding,” she said. “There is money there.”

“My administration grieves with the hundreds of students who will be crushed by Democrats removing them from their friends, teachers, and schools, and my administration remains more committed than ever to fighting for all Nevada students,” Lombardo said in a statement, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Our fight continues.”

Efforts to expand school choice policies increased as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic. National School Choice Week, an organization that raises awareness about K-12 education options, found in a January 2023 survey that just under 54% of all parents are considering or have considered choosing a new school for their children. Moreover, black (64.5%) and Hispanic (64.6%) parents were more likely to review their options about their children’s schools than white parents (46.2%). Parents between the ages of 18-29 (63.3%) and 30-44 (55.7%) were more likely to say they have considered or were considering sending their kids to a new school than parents ages 45-60 (49.7%) and over 60 (42.5%).

Additionally, 68% of parents said access to a specific school district or zone was important to them when deciding whether where to rent or buy a home.

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