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'Vouchers for All' Program Will Remain Unfunded in Nevada

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An effort to fund Nevada's ambitious program to give all public school students the option to take state money allocated to them and use it instead for private school tuition, or other approved education-related expenses, is dead for this session.

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It's unclear what this means for the future of the program, as the Nevada legislature only meets once every two years.

Nevada's education savings account program, a relatively new policy idea popping up across the country as an alternative to traditional school vouchers, was created in 2015 by a Republican-led legislature. But the program hasn't been officially launched because of disputes over how to pay for it.


Explainer: What's the Difference Between Vouchers and Education Savings Accounts?


The power struggle between Democrats and Republicans over diverting $60 million into the ESA program nearly derailed the entire state budget. Democrats, who now make up the majority of the state legislature, held firm in their opposition to the program—the first in the nation to offer private school choice to all students in a state regardless of income, disability, or other special status. 

According to the Associated Press, lawmakers reached a budget compromise late Sunday night—and it's one that doesn't include funding for the ESAs.

However, the deal does contain an extra $20 million over the next two years for a separate private school choice program that has a cap on how much a family can earn in order to be eligible for the aid. That will be paid for by taxing marijuana sales and growers (marijuana was legalized in the state through a ballot initiative last fall). 

Democrats decided that allowing $60 million in state funds to be directed into private schools was a non-negotiable for them, as the Associated Press describes:

"Shaking his head and looking down at one of his signature patterned bow ties, the Democratic leader of the Nevada Senate said last week there was no version of a program to spend public dollars on private schooling that he could imagine himself supporting this session.

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford's personal grappling was the epitome of a Democratic legislative majority so fundamentally opposed to giving families hundreds or thousands of taxpayer dollars apiece to move their children from public to private schools that they decided this week to effectively trade several of their policy priorities for the death of Education Savings Accounts."

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval is expected to approve the budget.

The Long Tug-O-War Over Nevada's ESAs

Although the state's educations savings account program was created in 2015 under the then-Republican controlled legislature, the program has been on hold while legal challenges were mounted and resolved.

The state's supreme court ruled in October that the funding mechanism for the program was unconstitutional, but not necessarily the idea, itself.

But since then, it has been up to a newly configured legislature—one with a Democratic majority—to approve a new funding source.

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Photo: Spectators look down on the Nevada State Assembly on the opening day of the legislative session in February in Carson City, Nev. —Lance Iversen/AP-File

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