Today, a coalition of public education advocates gathered at the Nevada Legislature to deliver a message to the Governor and legislators: #PublicMoneyPublicSchools. Why are these education advocates so concerned about the ESA voucher program? And what is their end goal this legislative session?

There’s a reason why we’ve been diving deep into the ESA voucher controversy in recent weeks.

A decision on ESA vouchers will likely be part of “the end game” for the Nevada Legislature.

Governor Brian Sandoval (R) wants $60 million to fund school vouchers, but Democratic leaders have balked. Pundits have expected Sandoval and legislative leaders in both parties to agree to some sort of compromise on the ESA voucher program that’s been frozen since the Nevada Supreme Court ordered an injunction on implementation last year. The #PublicMoneyPublicSchools coalition came to Carson City to deliver a clear message that Nevada children’s future is not worth compromising.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Flor is a student at West Preparatory (West Prep) Academy in Las Vegas who traveled all the way to Carson City for today’s rally. Why? “I wanted to fight for our public schools. Our parents’ tax dollars should go to public education. It shouldn’t go to private schools that already have money.”
For Flor, it’s personal. Her brother is enrolled in a special education program. She fears more funding for ESA vouchers could mean less funding for public schools that provide special education.

“I’m so grateful for these programs, but I fear that money could go away. If my brother can benefit from [special education programs], I know other students can.” – Flor, West Prep student

That concern was echoed by Senator Joyce Woodhouse (D-Henderson). “I’m not interested in sending tax dollars to private schools that don’t serve all our 460,000 students.” She and Assembly Member Olivia Diaz (D-North Las Vegas) explained how private schools are not required to abide by non-discrimination laws, special education standards, and low-income assistance programs (like school meals) that apply to public schools.
Assembly Member Diaz then noted another reason why public education advocates fear implementation of ESA vouchers.

“It’s clear vouchers will take us down the path of privatizing our public schools.” – Assembly Member Olivia Diaz

This was a recurring theme among speakers at today’s rally. They worry ESA vouchers will undo the progress made in 2015 to improve Nevada’s public education system. Even though the SB 302 ESA voucher bill also passed in 2015, that passed along party lines (as opposed to the larger bipartisan vote for the tax and budget package).
“Vouchers hurt kids.” That was PLAN’s Stacey Shinn warning on ESA vouchers. She took part in today’s chorus of opposition to public tax dollars going to private institutions that don’t have to make their schools accessible to all.
Another legislator gave a concise explanation of where she and many of her colleagues stand on the voucher program.

Photo by Andrew Davey

“Free public education for everyone. Period.” – Assembly Member Brittney Miller (D-Spring Valley)

Even though the Legislature isn’t moving any ESA voucher related legislation this week, expect this topic to continue to dominate the session as this biennium’s budget gradually comes together.