No re­play of ESA furor seen in ’19

Las Vegas Review-Journal - - NEVADA - By Meghin De­laney Las Ve­gas Re­view-jour­nal

A con­tro­ver­sial school voucher-like pro­gram that cre­ated chaos at the end of the 2017 leg­isla­tive ses­sion likely won’t cause a sim­i­lar brouhaha this year.

That’s be­cause the Ed­u­ca­tion Sav­ings Ac­counts pro­gram pushed by Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors last year prob­a­bly won’t even see the light of day, ac­cord­ing to Demo­cratic lead­er­ship.

Demo­cratic Gov. Steve Siso­lak is on record op­pos­ing ESAS, which would al­low par­ents and guardians to re­move their child from a Ne­vada pub­lic school and in­stead di­rectly re­ceive a por­tion of the state’s per-pupil ed­u­ca­tion ex­pen­di­ture to use for their child’s ed­u­ca­tion.

And Assem­bly Speaker Ja­son Fri­er­son, D-las Ve­gas, said he sees the pro­posal as a “non-starter” when the Leg­is­la­ture con­venes Feb. 4.

“I don’t see us ex­plor­ing that,” he told the Re­view-jour­nal last week.

But fresh­man As­sem­bly­man Gre­gory Hafen, R-nye County, is spon­sor­ing a bill any­way, hop­ing to start the con­ver­sa­tion anew.

“Ed­u­ca­tion is a con­cern of mine in this state,” said Hafen, who was ap­pointed to the seat af­ter the death of brothel owner Den­nis Hof. “I wanted to have one in there so it was on the ta­ble for dis­cus­sion to try and im­prove our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

Pro­po­nents ar­gue that ESAS would give par­ents greater free­dom in di­rect­ing how their tax­payer money is used to ed­u­cate their chil­dren. Op­po­nents ar­gue it hurts the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem by re­mov­ing money, and that tax dol­lars should not be used for ex­penses like pri­vate-school tu­ition.

Cre­ated and funded in 2015, the pro­gram was put on ice by the Ne­vada Supreme Court, which said the pro­gram was le­gal but could not be funded from the same ac­count that sup­ports Ne­vada’s pub­lic schools.

A last-minute deal in 2017 would have set aside $60 mil­lion to test the pro­gram, but it col­lapsed in early June amid a fight among law­mak­ers over tax­ing re­tail mar­i­juana sales. In the end, that money was fun­neled into a “rainy day fund” and the pro­gram was again moth­balled.

As a com­pro­mise, money was fun­neled to a smaller pro­gram that al­lows busi­nesses to avoid pay­ing cer­tain taxes by do­nat­ing to Op­por­tu­nity Schol­ar­ship funds. That money is avail­able only to cer­tain cat­e­gories of stu­dents — mainly those liv­ing in poverty — and can only be used on tu­ition and fees.

With Democrats now in con­trol of both houses of the Leg­is­la­ture, Fri­er­son said law­mak­ers will need to have fur­ther dis­cus­sion about the Op­por­tu­nity Schol­ar­ship pro­gram, which was sold as a one-time com­pro­mise in 2017.

But he said it wouldn’t be fair to fam­i­lies that have taken ad­van­tage of the pro­gram to elim­i­nate it en­tirely.

“We have to be mind­ful of yank­ing it out from un­der­neath those kids and those fam­i­lies.”

A pro­posed bud­get left by Gov. Brian San­doval for Siso­lak doesn’t in­clude any money for ESAS, and a spokes­woman for the new gov­er­nor said he wouldn’t be sup­port­ive of fund­ing the pro­gram.

Despite such strong po­lit­i­cal head­winds, Hafen said he thinks it’s worth hav­ing a dis­cus­sion.

“I un­der­stand that’s what the gov­er­nors have left us, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the con­ver­sa­tion and try to see what we can do,” he said.

Con­tact Meghin De­laney at 702-383-0281 or mde­[email protected] re­viewjour­nal.com. Fol­low @ Meghin­de­laney on Twit­ter.

Gre­gory Hafen

Ja­son Fri­er­son

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