Nevada Governor Budgets $60 Million to Fund State ESA Program

Published February 23, 2017

ESAs give parents access to the state tax money allocated for their children’s public education, to spend on educational alternatives such as private school tuition, homeschooling textbooks, educational therapies, and tutoring. The Nevada ESA program launched in January 2016 and is “the nation’s first universal ESA program,” according to EdChoice, meaning students need only have attended a Nevada public school for at least 100 days to qualify for the program.

ACLU Opposed Choice

Nevada’s ESA program has been in and out of courtrooms since 2015, when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada filed a lawsuit claiming the program violated the Nevada constitution’s Blaine amendment, which bars the use of public money to fund sectarian enterprises. In its September 2016 ruling, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the ESA program but said it could not be funded with money intended for public schools.

Legislators have not agreed on a funding mechanism for the program, even though 8,000 parents have signed up to participate. In his State of the State speech in January, Sandoval proposed allocating $60 million to fund the ESA program.

‘We Thank Gov. Sandoval’

Michael Chartier, director of state programs and government relations at EdChoice, says he’s grateful for Sandoval’s pledge of $60 million.

“We thank Gov. Sandoval for standing with the thousands of Nevada families who have signed up to exercise their choice in education,” Chartier said.

‘Simply Isn’t Enough’

“Total funding for the major public schools budget, the Distributive School Account, is $1.6 billion a year,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in January.

Michael Schaus, communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, says the $60 million limit will prevent the program from reaching its goals.

“The amount simply isn’t enough to cover the students already enrolled, meaning this program will be far from the universal program with which we began,” Schaus said. “Nevada had the opportunity to be the nation’s laboratory for educational innovation and advancement. Limiting ESAs too much damages that possibility.

“The governor’s proposed $60 million for ESAs should be treated merely as a down payment toward revolutionizing public education in Nevada,” Schaus said.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.