Friday, May 29, 2015 | 11:15 p.m.
CARSON CITY — Nevada Assembly members approved a sweeping bill Friday that would allow students to use the state funds designated for their public education at a private school or for other education expenses.
Assembly members voted 25-17 along party lines to pass SB302, which allows students to claim a grant equal to 90 percent of their per-pupil state funding allotment. Students could use the state money deposited in the education savings account for tuition, textbooks and tutoring.
"SB302, I believe, sets a new top standard for school choice in our country," Republican Assemblyman James Oscarson said. "Empowering parents to choose the best education for their children is the best thing we can do for students."
The measure, which is sponsored by Republican Sen. Scott Hammond, already passed the Senate in an 11-8, party-line vote.
Democrats are sharply opposed to the bill.
"This bill actually siphons money away from our public school system and gives it to private schools," Democratic Assemblywoman Amber Joiner said Friday. "That's at a time when our schools can least afford it, and what we're trying to do is support them more than we ever had before."
Democratic Assemblyman Elliot Anderson argued that the measure was unconstitutional because students could use the money at a religious school, although Republican Assemblymen Erv Nelson and David Gardner disputed that point.
Assemblywoman Heidi Swank said she was concerned that parents would be charged with a potentially overwhelming decision about what school is best for their child, and they wouldn't be given assistance making that choice.
Joiner said the bill helps wealthy parents pay for their children's private or religious education but doesn't help low-income families that still won't be able to afford such schools.
Republicans, however, said the measure would give students the chance to leave bad schools and would push public schools to improve.
"The competition is what's really going to change our public schools," Republican Assemblywoman Jill Dickman said. "It's the only thing that's going to force them to become better schools because they're going to lose students if they don't."
The bill is similar to a measure Gov. Brian Sandoval signed into law that creates Opportunity Scholarships. Under that bill, businesses receive a tax credit for money donated to a scholarship fund, and that money would provide lower-income students scholarships to attend private schools.
Sun reporter Cy Ryan contributed to this report.