By Tiffany Lane, KSNV, May 23, 2023
The clock is ticking down for two of Governor Joe Lombardo’s education bills in the Nevada legislature.
If they fail, some are worried there could be a legislative standoff.
Just last week, Lombardo’s office confirmed to News 3 that if his priorities aren’t met, he could veto the budget and call a special session.
A source in his office said the main priorities include education and school safety.
Right now, one of the bills that hasn’t advanced is his bill on school choice, Assembly Bill 400, leaving advocates frustrated.
“Our schools are not safe. We have to be worrying,” said Valeria Gurr.
Gurr is a school choice advocate.
She also leads the American Federation for Children, a nonprofit that looks to provide families with access to school choice across the country.
Monday, the AFC released an ad to Spanish-speaking stations to get the message to lawmakers.
“Instead of better grades, our kids worry about gangs, bullying, and shootings. It’s time they had options,” the video said in part.
“But Nevada’s democrat leaders are standing in the way. Luckily, Governor Lombardo has a plan that allows parents to sent their child to a school of their choice,” the video continued.
Right now, AB400 is not receiving the movement those like Gurr are hoping for.
“What I see is that the Hispanic community continues to be like, like suffering the most because they don’t provide quality education to our kids,” said Gurr. “And if you look at the Nevada Report Card, you’re seeing all kids at all grade levels, but particularly Hispanics and African American, are fairly behind a lot more than their white counterparts.”
AB400 would expand Opportunity Scholarships, money that students who qualify can use towards private schools of their choice.
The bill would increase accessibility to families of four that make $150,000 or less.
Right now, it’s just $89,000.
The principal of a local private school says it’s a step in the right direction.
“We have over 100 students that travel 30 miles each way to school,” said Rabbi Mendy Levine, principal of Yeshiva Day School of Las Vegas in Henderson. “That means parents and families are making a very serious choice that this is the school they choose.”
Rabbi Levine says a third of his 300 students receive Opportunity Scholarships.
“An average student is getting about $5,000, a little bit more than $5,000. Tuition at this school is about $13,000,” said Rabbi Levine. “That means our school, myself included, are fundraising hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of- thousands of dollars just to make sure that these kids get an education.”
AB400 would also create an Office of School Choice within the Nevada Department of Education.
The bill would allow charter schools to apply for public money to bus children to their campuses.
But some are hesitant to support the bill, including elementary school teacher Vicki Kreidel, who says there are already school choice options.
“Nevada can’t afford it,” she said. “We cannot afford to have money taking from our education fund, because we’re 48 as it is. We’re already really low.”
She believes public school classrooms will take a hit.
“I came here in 2013. There was no teacher laptop, no curriculum, and not one student book of any kind in my classroom. Nothing,” said Kreidel. “Until we can take care of our public schools, we should not be pulling any of the funding to go to anyone else.”
As far as the Opportunity Scholarships go, Gurr says they do not come from the same pot of money as education funding, and instead come from tax credits.
Governor Lombardo is also pushing for zero-tolerance policies to address safety in our schools.
Assembly Bill 330, his Safer and Supportive Schools Act, did not advance from committee Friday.
But top lawmakers waived deadlines on the bill, so there’s more room for negotiation before the end of session.
Under the bill, a student of any age could be automatically expelled in certain circumstances.
It would also allow automatic permanent expulsion for children 11 years or older after a second occurrence.
Children between six and 11 could also be permanently expelled with the approval of the superintendent.
Those opposed to the bill say moving from restorative practices to zero tolerance can impact the most vulnerable children who may not have enough resources when expelled.
“Unless a family can afford to put their child in a private educational setting, if they can leave their job to ensure that that child is learning at home, or they have other opportunity to be able to ensure that their child is otherwise learning, we are failing those kids and that is going to impact the most vulnerable children in our state,” said Holly Welborn, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance.
“We expect school safety legislation to actually make schools safer. Governor Lombardo will not sign legislation that allows a student to commit battery against a teacher and have the only mandatory punishment be a meeting with their parents,” said Ben Kieckhefer, Chief of Staff to Governor Lombardo, in a news release Friday. “This is not good enough. We need to do better for our teachers and children.”
According to the Clark County School District Transparency website, in the 2021-2022 school year, students were removed from instruction 10,561 times, and 5,668 restorative resolutions were used following behavior incidents.
For the Fall 2022 semester, students were removed from instruction 6,000 times, and there were 4,289 restorative resolutions.
Restorative resolutions include having a student speak with a counselor, for example, rather than automatically suspending or expelling.