By Jessica Hill, Las Vegas Review-Journal, August 4, 2023
Julia Manzano used to attend a public school, but it was loud and overcrowded. Using an Opportunity Scholarship, the 17-year-old moved to Mountain View Christian School, where she said the classes are smaller and her grades are better.
“Please continue to fight alongside us so that many other students can have the same opportunity I have,” she told Gov. Joe Lombardo at his “school choice” rally Friday at Saint Anne Catholic School.
Lombardo held the event alongside students, parents and fellow Republican legislators in an effort to highlight the plan he announced last week to fund Opportunity Scholarships — need-based scholarships for students to use for private school — by using about $3.24 million of unallocated federal COVID-19 funds.
During the legislative session, Lombardo pushed for funding of the scholarships, which were included in a sweeping education bill. While that bill passed, the Opportunity Scholarship portion was cut. Lombardo said about 700 students could lose their scholarship.
“We are not taking money from public schools,” he said. “We’re just giving more opportunity for more choice.”
The Governor’s Finance Office submitted the proposal to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, which could take action on the plan at its Wednesday meeting.
On Wednesday, leaders of the Interim Finance Committee sent a letter to scholarship organizations requesting information ahead of its meeting, such as the number of students who received a scholarship last year, the number expected to receive one in the next school year, and whether the organization anticipates not being able to renew scholarships for the next school year because of insufficient funding.
The program’s 2022-2023 report shows that out of more than $12 million of donations, less than $9 million was awarded in scholarships to students. State law allows unspent donations to be carried forward to subsequent years, the letter says, and the finance committee leaders are asking for the dollar amount of funding carried over.
The Nevada State Education Association sent a statement before Lombardo’s rally in opposition to his proposal, calling it an example of his “misguided Nevada priorities” and urging the Interim Finance Committee to reject his request.
“When Congress passed these pandemic relief packages, they never contemplated using these federal funds for voucher programs,” said President Dawn Etcheverry in the statement. “These federal funds should not be used to fund vouchers to attend unaccountable private schools.”
Instead, Etcheverry argues, the funds should be used for public schools to fund staffing, school safety, extended learning opportunities and support programs.