Outside legislative fight over ‘Opportunity Scholarships,’ families say it's making a difference
Gov. Joe Lombardo drummed up support for his bill expanding the state’s “Opportunity Scholarship” program during a Monday event at a Christian private school, even amid skepticism from Democratic legislative leaders.
More than 100 students, parents and other school choice advocates came out to Mountain View Christian Schools near downtown Las Vegas to promote how the state program, formally known as Nevada Educational Choice Scholarship, is helping students to attend the schools of their choice.
“My father … works away for months and comes back home only for a short period of time, but it still isn't enough. My mom also works part time to help my dad out," eighth grade Mountain View student Maite Ascencio said through tears. “With the scholarship, it gives them a couple of things less to worry about.”
Parents such as Alicia Manzano said the scholarship has helped them get their students away from problems at public schools such as large class sizes, bullying and lack of resources for students with disabilities.
“I tried putting them in a traditional public school but we needed something else,” Manzano said. “The violence and the bullying made us feel unsafe. The private school is helping them not only with their grades but their self-esteem since one of the purposes of this school is to develop leadership in the children.”
Lombardo is seeking to expand both the size and eligibility of the program through his bill, AB400. Opportunity Scholarships draw from corporate funds exchanged for tax credits to provide annual scholarships for private school tuition for students under certain income thresholds.
Democrats, however, have been resistant to the proposed expansion. During a recent interview with The Nevada Independent, Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) said, “public money should stay in public schools.”
Lombardo said he’s already directing more funding for public schools, citing the proposed $2 billion in additional K-12 education funding for the next biennium, but couldn’t say much as to whether he’s made any recent headway with Democrats.
“I've been given the opportunity to have a conversation. We haven't had the opportunity to say where we are,” he said in remarks to reporters following the event. “Hopefully we're going to achieve that this week, because we're running out of time.”
Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.