Against all odds, Republicans reintroduce Education Savings Accounts bill

Michelle Rindels
Michelle Rindels

In spite of daunting political odds, a group of Republicans is bringing back a proposal to put nearly $60 million toward Nevada’s controversial and dormant Education Savings Account program.

Eight Republicans led by Assemblyman Gregory Hafen are signed on as sponsors of AB218, a bill introduced Monday that would apply funding to the program that allows parents several thousand state education dollars per year, per child to pay for private school tuition or other qualifying educational expenses. Efforts to fund the ESA program, which was derailed by a legal challenge after it was created in 2015, were unsuccessful in 2017 even when there were more Republican lawmakers and a supportive governor.

“There's always a path forward. Whether or not they'll give us a hearing is going to be the real question,” said Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards, who’s been a staunch defender of ESAs since their advent in the 2015 session and who pointed to a high number of preliminary applications filed before a court ruled the program partially unconstitutional. “I know it deserves a hearing because we already know that at least 8,500 people wanted it, and if they had been given additional time I'm sure that would have been easily over 20,000.”

Only a single Democratic lawmaker expressed support for ESAs in 2017, and Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak promised during the campaign not to allow public school funds to be diverted to private schools. Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last month that he sees the ESA idea as a “non-starter” this session.

But Assembly Education Committee Chairman Tyrone Thompson stopped short of declaring it dead on arrival the day after it emerged.

“I haven’t reviewed it yet,” he said on Tuesday. “I read all the bills and try to determine, so I haven’t made that determination yet.”

Republicans are still making the case for the program as they’ve fallen further into the minority.

“What we're trying to do is make sure that people have the option to find a better way to educate their kids because public schools might be fine for some but others excel in other things,” Edwards said. “Every demographic wants it and it was a shame it wasn't funded the way it should've been.”


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