Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo, the Republican who replaced incumbent Governor Steve Sisolak in November, promised Nevada residents have more school choice in his first address to the state.
Lombardo promised the Nevada Assembly in Carson City that his budget would provide parents and students with more education choices than any budget in the state’s history.
“Every child in Nevada has the right to a quality education and should be ready for college or career by the time they graduate from high school,” Lombardo said at a joint session of the Nevada legislature. “Traditional public schools are not and should not be the only option.”
The state must support private schools, special schools, charter schools, microschools, virtual schools, and homeschooling to give parents in Nevada more options for choosing their child’s education, the new governor said.
Lombardo also announced plans to create an Office of School Choice within the state Department of Education through legislation.
The office will serve as a source of information for parents and students about all available educational options and ensure that all educational providers are held to the same standards.
Lombardo also proposed greater use of “opportunity scholarships”, in which public funds for education would follow students regardless of the type of study they chose.
According to the Nevada School Choice Coalition, the Nevada Scholarship “reflects the successful tax credit programs that have been available in many other states for a number of years.”
Scholarships of up to $8,500 currently cover K-12 private school fees and tuition fees, but are limited to households below 300 percent poverty.
“I look forward to… expanding fellowship opportunities… I fully expect the opportunity fellowships to receive a record amount of funding this session,” Lombardo said.
The state also previously capped scholarship funding at $6 million a year, Valeria Gurr, executive director of the Nevada-based School Choice Coalition, told The Lion.
Lombardo’s new proposals aim for $25 million in annual funding over the next two years, she said.
If it is accepted, she said, it will help clear the long list of students who have applied.
“It’s great to have a governor who wants to expand the scholarship program,” said Gurr, noting that she has been working for several years to make scholarship opportunities available to more parents. “[Lombardo] proposes to make funding permanent and to increase funding in record amounts that we have not seen before.”
Lombardo has received praise from across the state for his school choice legislative agenda.
“It’s a great offer,” Amy Tarkanian, former Nevada Republican state chairman, told The Lion of the governor’s expansion of scholarship opportunities.
“I would say that for the most part, and if you look through the articles and through Twitter, you really see that the Democrats were happy with some of them, albeit reluctantly,” Tarkanian added of the proposals in the address to the nation.
Tarkanian said the governor’s willingness to invest more money in public education by focusing on expanding the choice of schools was “the way the government was supposed to work.”
“And I also love the fact that while he’s willing to put more money into the public school system, he’s also calling for accountability,” she said. “If a third grader can’t read at a third grade level, he shouldn’t move forward until he can.”