A new analysis of about 150 students who are attending private schools through Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship program showed that a majority of them have maintained their academic performance level or grown while in the program.
The analysis from the Nevada Department of Education obtained by The Nevada Independent and dated Feb. 6 only gauged the performance of students who took the same type of assessment at least two years in a row. That means the sample size is 149 students, or about 6 percent of the 2,300 students who are receiving the scholarship.
But it shows that among that group, about two-thirds of students had scores that either held steady or improved year-over-year. About 68 percent of students who took the same test three years in a row showed maintenance or growth, and about 66 percent of those who took the same test two years in a row showed a positive score change.
“The sample size (N=149) is small in comparison to the total number of scholarship recipients due to the marked increase in student participation each year since the beginning of the program in 2015,” the department noted. “Many students are new to the program and do not have multiple years of assessment scores to determine achievement.”
The analysis marks the first student achievement data to emerge from the program, which started in 2015 under Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval but is eyed with skepticism by many Democrats. The program is supported when businesses donate to scholarship-granting organizations and receive a credit on their payroll tax obligation in return. Scholarship organizations disburse money to pay for private school tuition based on a need-based sliding scale.
Supporters have asked lawmakers to boost the program by another $20 million over the next two years. The scholarship program got a one-time funding bump under Sandoval that allowed it to grow, but it’s unclear whether it will be able to maintain that capacity because Democrats who control the Legislature have reservations about the program.
Gov. Steve Sisolak has said he would like the $20 million to be spent for public education.
Supporters of the scholarship pointed the report as evidence the program is working.
“These results show that the longer a scholarship student is enrolled in a school of his or her family choice, the better they are likely to perform academically,” said Valeria Gurr, Nevada State Director for the American Federation for Children. “We must continue supporting parents who seek expanded educational opportunities for their children and are able to secure them through the assistance of this important program.”
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Updated at 1:25 p.m. on Feb. 8, 2019 to add comment from Valeria Gurr.