The Nevada Senate narrowly passed a bill on Wednesday paying approximately $5,000 to any family who pulls their child out of public school to attend private or home school.

Marking one of the nation’s most extreme shifts toward school choice, Senate Bill 302 gives Nevada families unprecedented control over the state’s taxpayer money used to educate their children. Any parent could either keep their children in public school or leave and take the state’s education funding with them. The money could be used on any private school — including religiously oriented schools — or homeschooling.

Up until now, students who choose private school don’t get a dime.

Under SB302, students in poverty or special education would get 100 percent of the average state education funding, while all other students would receive 90 percent. At Nevada’s current funding rate to local public schools, most families would receive about $5,000 per child who opts out of public schools.

The allowance isn’t official yet. The bill cleared the Senate but needs the Assembly to do the same and Gov. Brian Sandoval’s signature.

Wednesday’s Senate vote was contentious, falling on party lines with 11 Republicans in support. The eight senators against SB302 were Democrats, claiming their counterparts across the aisle are undermining public education.

Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, warned that SB302 would take money out of public schools at a time when funding should be increased for improvement.

“This is a ploy by those who deplore public education and want to destroy it,” said Sen. Pat Spearman, D-Las Vegas. “We might as well open the door and throw the money out the window.”

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer took offense to such an accusation, contending that SB302 stands up for children who would otherwise be stuck in public schools that are continually failing, despite efforts by state lawmakers to turn around these schools.

“This gives kids the option out,” he said.

Nevada’s public education system commonly ranks among the worst in the nation, and has for years.

“I attended the public schools in our state,” said Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, listing the Las Vegas schools he attended from elementary through high school. “Our inability to get where we need to be in the quality of our public schools mandates that we do this.”

Here’s how the private school payments would work:

  • To be eligible for the payment, a student must have attended public school for 100 days without interruption.
  • Parents must enter into a written agreement with the Nevada State Treasurer.
  • The money would then be deposited in an education savings account created by the parent for their child to attend a “participating entity” instead of their usual public schools.
  • Anyone can become a participating entity by submitting an application to the state demonstrating that they are a private school, accredited tutor or “the parent of a child.”
  • The money must be spent on tuition, class fees, textbooks, tutoring or taking tests for Advanced Placement courses, college entry or government requirement, such as Nevada’s standardized tests.
  • The state would freeze the education savings account “during any break in the school year, including any break between school years.” The account would also be audited randomly each year.
  • The state treasurer’s office would deduct at most 3 percent from each account for administrative costs.

Source: Reno Gazette Journal

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@rgj.com or 775-788-6343. Follow him on twitter: @TrevonMilliard.