Governor Lombardo: ‘This is an unimaginable injustice’
By Megan Barth. The Nevada Globe, August 10, 2023
In an unanimous vote, the Democratic majority on the Interim Finance Committee (IFC) refused to approve Governor Lombardo’s proposed $3.4 million to protect hundreds of Opportunity Scholarships for low-income students. Republican members of the committee unanimously approved the funding.
During the lengthy hearing, numerous parents, students, and organization stressed the importance of the program, with Lombardo’s Chief of Staff Ben Kieckhefer noting: “Parents and families have made up their minds about school choice and they like it. I’m not gonna try to convince you to like it … What I’m here to ask is whether you’ll allow the families and the students to continue attending the schools that they’ve already chosen.”
During the 2015 legislative session, bill AB165 was passed providing a means for taxpayers to contribute funds to one-of-six approved Opportunity Scholarship organizations in lieu of paying all or part of their modified business tax. Although funded through tax credits, Opportunity Scholarships have been labeled by many Democrats as a “scam” and a “voucher program” that diverts taxpayer money from public schools.
At the beginning of the 2023 Legislative Session, Governor Lombardo proposed increasing Opportunity Scholarship funding to $50 million through Assembly Bill 400, which Democrats referred to as a “non-starter” and gutted the bill to remove the scholarship funding increase, leaving the program with it’s lowest funding level since 2017.
The Democratic majority comprised of Steve Yeager, Daniele Monroe-Moreno, Marilyn Dondero Loop, Nicole Cannizzaro, Dallas Harris, Dina Neal, Rochelle Nguyen, Natha Anderson, Shea Backus, Tracy Brown-May, Michelle Gorelow, Sandra Jauregui, Cameron “CH” Miller, Sarah Peters, and Howard Watts summarily dismissed Governor Lombardo’s request to allocate federal COVID aid dollars to support the program and ignored pleas from their constituents.
Sen. Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) said it looked a lot like “a manufactured crisis that was created to expand this program.”
“The information submitted to us is that if they do not receive additional funding, 350 students will get kicked out of their schools, plain and simple,” Lombardo’s Chief of Staff Ben Kieckhefer replied.
IFC’s chairwoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) accused the governor of trying to “supplement a voucher program that already has plenty of money,” adding, “His administration has allowed one organization to hoard all the tax credits, ultimately manufacturing this crisis.”
The “hoarding” Monroe-Moreno refers to is specific to AAA who received the entire $6.6 million in tax credits and has ~$13 million in reserves. The tax credits are awarded in a first-come, first-served basis. According to a report in the NV Indy:
AAA was awarded the entire $6.6 million in tax credits available this year in the state’s first-come, first-served process despite another SGO submitting their application moments later, and a third SGO submitting their application via mail postmarked by the date the application opened. Last school year, AAA awarded scholarships to 885 students, more than half of all students receiving Opportunity Scholarships.
“I could not understand how all of a sudden now one organization could go and get all the [tax] credit funding,” said Silver State Administrator Dana Stern. “And that’s obviously a problem that has to be addressed because this is wrong. This is completely wrong.”
Following the vote, Governor Joe Lombardo released the following statement:
In an act of callous partisanship, today Democrats turned their backs on hundreds of low-income students that our traditional school system has failed or left behind. Forcibly removing hundreds of low-income students from their schools after the school year has already begun is devastating and simply incomprehensible. My administration grieves with the hundreds of students who will be crushed by Democrats removing them from their friends, teachers, and schools, and my administration remains more committed than ever to fighting for all Nevada students. Our fight continues.
The fight over Opportunity Scholarships and school choice is likely to be a centerpiece in the 2024 election as Republicans seek to overturn the Democratic supermajority in the Assembly and prevent a Democratic supermajority in the Senate. Should Democrats hold their supermajority in the Assembly and gain one seat in the Senate, Democrats will have the power to override a gubernatorial veto.