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Nevada's Once 'Unprecedented' School Choice Program Is on Thin Ice

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Nevada's broad school choice program is on thin ice—a potential casualty of a battle over funding priorities between the state's Republicans, including the governor, and Democrats who control the state legislature.

The state's educations savings account program, which was set up to offer all public school students state money to use for private school tuition or other education related expenses, was created in 2015 by the Nevada legislature, which was then controlled by Republicans.

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

But implementation has been on hold as a couple of lawsuits challenging the program's constitutionality snaked through the courts and the state's supreme court ruled in October that the funding mechanism for education savings accounts was unconstitutional. The program can't start until lawmakers come up with a new way to finance it—a task that became substantially more difficult when Democrats took control of the state legislature in November.

The Associated Press reports that after the bottom fell out of negotiations over the budget recenlty, Democratic senators passed a bill nixing the plan to send $60 million to the education savings accounts program, directing the money instead to public schools.

That puts Gov. Brian Sandoval in the unfortunate position of choosing between saving the ESA program he's championed, or vetoing the entire education budget, reports the Nevada Appeal.

The political drama could drive the legislative session into overtime.

What Makes Nevada's ESA Program Important?

Prior to 2015, a handful of other states had passed education savings accounts programs, often as an alternative to traditional school vouchers. But Nevada was the first state to offer an ESA program to all public school students. Up until then, all private school choice programs—whether ESAs, vouchers, or tax-credit scholarships—have been limited to a select number of students, such as low-income students or students with disabilities.

As of this spring, Arizona took the lead for the most ambitious ESA program, opening it up to all of the state's 1.1 million students. However, a new group called Save Our Schools Arizona is in the process of mounting a ballot initiative to challenge the program.

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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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