Hundreds of students, with parents and teachers, braved temperatures in the 20's Wednesday morning to show their support for school choice, part of National School Choice Week, at the capital. Kindergartner Reagan Langtimm, Imagination Station School. January 25, 2017. Photo by Tim Dunn/Special to the Nevada Independent.

The 2017 legislative session ended sans funding for Education Savings Accounts, spurring speculation about the fate of the controversial program that would have drastically widened school choice in Nevada.

The biggest question: Are ESAs dead or alive?

The answer largely depends on whom is elected to office, but a recent poll released by The Mellman Group shows split public support for the voucher-style program, although Southern Nevada residents were more open to it. The poll asked voters this question:

“Under Nevada’s Education Savings Account program, the state would give parents of students in grades K-through-12 $5,000 that parents can use to help pay for private, online or religious school tuition. Do you favor or oppose this program?”

Nearly half of Nevada voters surveyed — 49 percent — said they favored the program, while 38 percent opposed it and another 13 percent either didn’t know or didn’t answer the question.

The poll by The Mellman Group sampled 600 likely voters in Nevada between April 12 and April 19 and has a margin of error of 4 percent.

Support for ESAs, like other school choice-related issues, leaned to the right. Fifty-eight percent of registered Republicans polled said they favored the program, compared with 43 percent of registered Democrats. Nonpartisan voters fell in the middle: 46 percent said they support ESAs.

Meanwhile, 46 percent of registered Democrats, 29 percent of registered Republicans and 38 percent of nonpartisan voters said they were against ESAs. The remaining 11 percent of registered Democrats, 13 percent of registered Republicans and 15 percent of nonpartisan voters are undecided or declined to answer the question.

Geography also played a big role in whether Nevada voters approve or disapprove of the program. Fifty-three percent of Clark County voters surveyed favor ESAs, while 36 percent opposed the program and 11 percent either didn’t know or didn’t answer the question.

Washoe County voters, however, are split on the issue. Forty-three percent of Washoe voters who participated in the poll said they favor ESAs, and 45 percent oppose the program. The remaining 12 percent of voters weren’t sure or didn’t respond.

Additionally, the poll found that ESAs have strong support within the Hispanic community. Sixty-seven percent of Hispanic voters surveyed said they favored the program, while only 45 percent of white voters offered support.

Nevada voters indicated a greater willingness to support an ESA-like program for children with special needs. The poll included this question on that topic:

“Some have proposed a program that allows parents of children with special needs to allocate their education tax dollars to a state-managed account so the parent may customize a learning and development plan that would best serve their needs, including special needs, therapies, virtual education, K-12 private school tuition, vocational education or a combination of these, through approved providers. Do you favor or oppose this program?”

Seventy percent of voters surveyed said they’d favor that kind of program for children with special needs. Only 14 percent opposed it, and another 16 percent weren’t sure or didn’t answer.

The Mellman Group is an opinion research firm that has done polling for former Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Steny Hoyer and other political and corporate clients, including many in Nevada. FiveThirtyEight gives the group a “B” grade in their ranking of pollsters and says their polls historically tilt slightly Democratic.

Editor Jon Ralston explains why The Nevada Independent hired Mellman in a blog post here.

For the poll’s full crosstabs and Ralston’s blog on the latest Independent Poll click here.

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