A panel of Nevada legislators has approved new rules for the state's Education Savings Account Program, and the regulations contain two contentious benefits for kindergartners and military families.
Michelle Rindels of the Associated Press writes that all three of the Democrats on the Legislative Commission's Subcommittee to Review Regulations were opposed to the changes. But now the rules will travel to the state treasurer's office for adoption and will allow the state to begin giving money to thousands of Nevada families in February, pending court approval.
The program will grant families the right to use a significant part of their children's per-pupil state funding allotment, approximately $5,000 a year, toward such expenses as private school tuition.
Before a student can become eligible for the program, they must attend public school classes for at least 100 days. This guideline is in place to prevent all of the state students currently enrolled in private schools from joining the program at the same time, which would detrimentally affect the state budget.
But the new rules do not require military families and kindergartners to adhere to the 100-day regulation. Parents of military kids were vocal in expressing that their kids move around so much already that the instability of attending public school for 100 days would be prohibitive.
Democrats think the new changes push the parameters of the previous bill, and state lawyers agreed. Senate Democratic leader Aaron Ford said the regulations were so controversial that they should have been considered by the larger Legislative Commission. The commission of 12 is equally split between Democrats and Republicans. The seven-member subcommittee panel has a majority of Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford (D-Las Vegas) was against the fact that the law is called "educational choice," reports Sandra Chereb for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
"I'm going to call it what it is. It is a voucher program," said Ford, adding that other choices such as charter and magnet schools are already available to parents.
State Treasurer Dan Schwartz's chief of staff Grant Hewitt said approximately 4,100 applications have already come into his office. The funding should start in February, but two lawsuits against the law are pending.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada has filed one of the complaints, which says the law violates the "constitutional prohibition of using taxpayer money for religious purposes." In most cases, private schools are run by religious organizations. Supporters of the legislation say the money is going to the parents and is not going toward religious-centered purposes.
The other lawsuit is based on the opinion that students will be harmed because money is being taken away from public school funding. Two families, with the help of Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, are seeking an expedited court decision that states the law is, in fact, constitutional.
The introduction of the resolution was a surprise to Democratic legislators. It was not even a part of Governor Brian Sandoval's outline of what lawmakers should consider during the special session.
The governor's office and the resolution's supporters announced that resolutions can be introduced by the Legislature on its own. And that they did, on the coattails of final approval to tax breaks for electric car maker Faraday Future and financing for the development of a North Las Vegas industrial site.