Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2015

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One move to fund education meeting opposition from school boards, teachers’ union

Gov. Brian Sandoval’s plan to give tax subsidies to help low-income students attend private schools ran into opposition Monday from school boards and a teachers’ union.

Sandoval wants to permit companies to donate money to a scholarship system and then take a deduction on their business tax. The money would be used to help pay private-school tuition for students from low-performing public schools.

Gerald Gardner, chief of staff for Sandoval, told the Senate Finance Committee on Monday that this was one of the governor’s highest priorities in education, and he added that this is “not an abandonment” of the public school system.

The amount of donations to the fund would be capped at $5 million. The money could not be used for recruitment of student-athletes.

Dotty Merrill of the Nevada Association of School Boards said this would reduce tax money that could go toward education. She said the bill, Senate Bill 445, does not include any accountability for how the student performs at the private school.

Craig Stevens of the Nevada State Education Association said this would leave a hole in the general fund budget. It would take money away that could go to education.

The scholarship money would be available on a “first-come, first-served” basis to students in low-performing schools.

Objections to the bill were raised by parents who homeschool their children. The bill would permit grants to parents or legal guardians who provide an accredited program of homeschooling.

Janine Hansen said she loves the idea of school choice, but this would put the homeschools under the jurisdictions of local school boards.

“We want homeschools removed from the bill,” she said.

The Nevada Homeschool Network offered an amendment to keep the accredited homeschool programs outside the authority of the local school boards.

Committee members questioned how much the general fund would lose from these tax subsidies.

Jeff Mohlenkamp, director of the state Administration Department, said he couldn’t determine now the financial impact or the number of families that would take advantage of the program.

But he said a student who left the public school for a private school would mean less money going to the state’s distributive school fund.

The committee did not take action on the bill.

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