Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval drew first blood in education reform this legislative session, promoting tax-credit scholarships in his State of the State address.
“In many ways, [Sandoval] has enacted liberal policies in the last two years,” said Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) spokesman Victor Joecks, citing tax hikes and Medicare expansion. “Now he’s kind of giving lip service to some really important ideas like tax credit scholarships and collective bargaining reform.”
The question, Joecks said, is, “How serious is the governor about pushing this?”
The scholarships would give businesses a dollar-for-dollar tax credit up to $1,500 for contributions to a scholarship fund. Students at low-performing schools could receive the funds to attend the school of their choice.
With Nevada recently becoming more charter-school friendly, and a bill in the legislature for a $750,000 loan fund to help charter schools open their doors, tax-credit scholarships would provide students alternatives to the status quo.
The benefits of an education tax credit would not stop at broadening scholastic avenues. NPRI estimated in a study the measure would save Nevada taxpayers between $590 million and $1.3 billion in its first ten years even as students already attending private schools became gradually eligible for these funds over the first seven years.
Sen. Barbara Cegavske (R-Clark County) said three different versions of the bill are circulating, including the governor’s, and they must be combined before being introduced in the Assembly and Senate. The tax-savings estimates vary among the three versions.
Preaching and Practicing
The Republican governor’s support for tax-credit legislation gives it more pull in the legislature, but the plan faces strong Democratic opposition. Democrats control both houses of the legislature—an 11-10 edge in the Senate and a 27-15 edge in the Assembly—giving them the ability to stop the tax-credit legislation.
Though it’s not a voucher plan, because it uses no public funds, RISE Education Resource Center resource specialist Elissa Wahl says the scholarship proposal will meet similar opposition.
“A lot of people don’t understand the constitutionality of them, like whether they can be used for religious purposes. People are not well-versed on them,” she said. “They aren’t even well-versed on what a charter school is.”
Even if the bill becomes law, Wahl said she doubts tax-credit scholarships will give parents many more options because opponents typically sue to stop them immediately. Wahl’s group hopes to support legislation removing a requirement that charter schools receive approval from the local school district to open.
Joecks said the measure’s success hinges on Sandoval.
“Does he use his influence to secure the hearing to make the public case for it?” Joeks asked. “If he really wanted to push it, I feel optimistic he could get bill through or really start a movement to get it passed in the next session.”
Sandoval spokesman Mary-Sarah Kinner said only that the governor will follow through with his speech and continue to fight for school choice.
Joecks says he suspects Sandoval will put forth a limited effort for the bill to avoid angering unions too much and to improve his reelection prospects.
A Leg Up on Vouchers
Although many people call tax-credit scholarships vouchers, they differ in a legally important way: vouchers send tax dollars to private schools, whereas tax-credit scholarships only allow private individuals to send private dollars to private schools. Because the state is not involved, a Nevada tax credit “passes constitutional muster,” Joecks said.
In many states, students wanting to attend religious schools cannot receive voucher money. Education tax credits, on the other hand, do not come from the government, which frees the money from government interference.
“I would love to see vouchers come forward, but a lot of politically active friends say not to hold hopes too high,” Wahl said.
School Reform News repeatedly attempted to contact Nevada Superintendent for Public Instruction James Guthrie. When Guthrie’s executive assistant eventually replied by email, she declined to comment.
“Sandoval’s Scholarship Plan Offers Hope for Students,” Nevada Policy Research Institute: http://www.npri.org/issues/publication/sandovals-scholarship-plan-offers-hope-for-students
“The Public Education Tax Credit,” Cato Institute: http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/public-education-tax-credit
Image by NV.gov.