Connect
To Top

A Sneak Peak into What’s Possibly in Sandoval’s Voucher Proposal

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, discussed new details of the administration’s school voucher proposal at his weekly press conference on today; however, as the Nevada News Bureau reports, “The governor’s office has only submitted a request that legislative employees draft the bill. That means there is not yet bill language for the public to read.”

But based on some of the details revealed at the briefing and reported in various news outlets, I think I just might be able to fill in some blanks.

Indeed, the governor’s proposal sounds very much like an initiative proposal I worked on with some others in 2008 that never made it to the ballot. It also sounds like the “Excellence in Education and Increased Opportunities (EIEIO) Act” that Assemblyman Ed Goedhart (R-Amargosa Valley) introduced last year which was based on the 2008 initiative.

For example, Anjeanette Damon of the Las Vegas Sun reports that Mr. Erquiaga said at the briefing that higher income families would be “ineligible for the voucher” – which would be counter to the notion of universal vouchers that Gov. Sandoval campaigned on last year.

But afterwards, “Erquiaga checked the language of the bill draft request submitted by Sandoval” and “Under that language, the highest income families would be eligible for vouchers worth 50 percent of the per pupil funding.” Which is exactly what was proposed in our 2008 initiative and Goedhart’s EIEIO bill.

In addition, the Nevada News Bureau reports that “provisions allowing vouchers for homeschooling were not part of the bill.”

Again, this is identical to EIEIO and our 2008 initiative proposal. We had initially included home-schoolers; however, there is actually a split in the home-school movement over this issue. Some, understandably, are concerned that once you take the government’s money, you allow the government to begin passing dictates, mandates and requirements. So we opted to leave home-schoolers out since it would be a lightning rod for additional controversy anyway.

In addition, Erquiaga noted that the governor’s proposal would be introduced as a constitutional amendment – same as our 2008 ballot initiative – so as to address concerns over the Nevada’s anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment which forbids tax dollars going directly to religious schools.

However, a Supreme Court ruling over Ohio’s voucher program a few years back allows vouchers to be used at religious schools providing they go to the family and not directly to the school itself. Same as Pell Grants and the G.I. Bill for higher education. And the proposed language in our initiative addressed this issue directly, as well.

In fact, the details of the governor’s proposal sound so similar that I’m just going to go ahead and re-publish the full text of that 2008 constitutional amendment ballot initiative so you can see for yourself all of the details and how we addressed many of the issues and concerns – including a “cooling off” period for families who are currently paying private tuition out of their own pockets.

Of course, it’s certainly possible the governor’s staff and advisers may have tweaked this language here and there…or may have come up with something completely different. But don’t be shocked if much of the governor’s proposal turns out to be word-for-word when it’s finally released.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEVADA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

Section 1. Section 2 of Article 11 of the Nevada Constitution is hereby amended to read as follows:

1. The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year, and any school district which shall allow instruction of a sectarian character therein may be deprived of its proportion of the interest of the public school fund during such neglect or infraction, and the legislature may pass such laws as will tend to secure a general attendance of the children in each school district upon said public schools.

2. In addition to establishing and maintaining public schools in each school district, the Legislature shall provide a companion program of per pupil funding which provides tuition assistance to parents or legal guardians of eligible students who choose to enroll them in private schools of their choice, using some or all of the funds that would otherwise be paid to a school district on behalf of that student.

(a) Students must be residents of this state, must not have graduated from high school or otherwise received a high school diploma, and must not attain the age of twenty-one years prior to or during the school year for which the tuition assistance is provided.

(b) Eligible private schools must be located in this state and licensed in accordance with applicable law.

3. The amount of such tuition assistance shall be as follows:

(a) If the annual income of the parents or legal guardians of the student in the calendar year immediately preceding the school year for which the tuition assistance is granted is less than or equal to one hundred percent of the maximum annual income allowed to qualify for reduced price meals pursuant to the National School Lunch Program, the tuition assistance granted shall be equal to the basic support guarantee per pupil, as established by law for the public schools, for students in the first through the twelfth grades, inclusive.

(b) If the annual income of the parents or legal guardians of the student in the calendar year immediately preceding the school year for which the tuition assistance is granted is less than or equal to three hundred percent of the maximum annual income allowed to qualify for reduced price meals pursuant to the National School Lunch Program, the tuition assistance granted shall be equal to seventy-five percent of the basic support guarantee per pupil, as established by law for the public schools, for students in the first through the twelfth grades, inclusive.

(c) If the annual income of the parents or legal guardians of the student in the calendar year immediately preceding the school year for which the tuition assistance is granted is greater than three hundred percent of the maximum annual income allowed to qualify for reduced price meals pursuant to the National School Lunch Program, the tuition assistance granted shall be equal to fifty percent of the basic support guarantee per pupil, as established by law for the public schools, for students in the first through the twelfth grades, inclusive.

(d) The parents or legal guardians of eligible students in kindergarten shall receive tuition assistance equal to the percentage of the basic support guarantee per pupil, as set forth in this section, times the portion of such basic support guarantee per pupil established by law for the majority of students attending kindergarten in the public schools.

(e) Notwithstanding anything herein to the contrary, if the actual direct costs of attending the private school chosen by the parents or legal guardians of the student participating in the tuition assistance program are less than the amount of the tuition assistance specified in this section, the amount of tuition assistance shall be reduced to equal the actual direct costs of attending the private school.

4. For each school year in which students are provided tuition assistance pursuant to Section 3, the difference between the amount of the tuition assistance provided and the amount that the school district in which the student resides would have received, as determined by the Legislature, if the student receiving tuition assistance had attended a public school in the district, shall be distributed to the school district in which the child resides.

5. If a substantially similar program replaces the National School Lunch Program, such substantially similar program shall be used in place of the National School Lunch Program for the purposes of determining the amount of tuition assistance provided by Section 3. If the National School Lunch Program is eliminated, the Legislature shall establish substantially similar criteria, adjusted annually for inflation or deflation, to determine the amount of the tuition assistance provided by this section.

6. The Legislature may provide transitional rules that restrict participation in the tuition assistance program set forth in Section 3 by students who were enrolled in private schools at any time in the state’s two full fiscal years immediately preceding the final enactment of this section, but any such transitional rules shall provide for gradually increasing participation by such students over time which shall result in full participation of such students beginning July 1, 2015.

7 . Except as otherwise expressly provided in this Article, licensing standards for private schools participating in the tuition assistance program must not be more onerous than comparable standards applicable to schools that are not participating in the tuition assistance program.

8. Private schools participating in the tuition assistance program set forth in Section 3 shall meet all applicable standards and graduation requirements.

9. The tuition assistance is provided to the parents or legal guardians of eligible students for the purpose of enrolling the students in a private school of their choice. Should the parents or legal guardians freely choose to use the tuition assistance at a properly licensed, private sectarian school which meets state requirements, it shall not be deemed to violate the provisions of Sections 2 and 10 of this Article relating to sectarian instruction or purposes.

10. Except as the Legislature may otherwise provide by law, neither the school district in which a child participating in the tuition assistance program attends school nor the school district in which the child resides is required to provide transportation for the child to attend a private school.

11. A private school that participates in the tuition assistance program shall remain a private school for all purposes, and shall not be deemed a public school. A child who participates in the tuition assistance program and enrolls in a private school shall be deemed enrolled in the private school by his parent or legal guardian rather than placed or referred for placement in the private school by the state or a local school district.

12. A private school that participates in the tuition assistance program set forth in Section 3 shall provide the parent or legal guardian of each student who participates in the tuition assistance program:

(a) Written disclosure regarding the minimum educational credentials required of teachers employed at the school;

(b) Written disclosure regarding the accreditation status of the school; and

(c) A regular report on the academic progress of the child.

13. The provisions of this article are self-executing but the Legislature may provide by law for procedures to facilitate the operation thereof, including procedures:

(a) Establishing the process of applying for tuition assistance, including proof of the student’s age and residence and the income of the student’s parents or legal guardians, provided however that parents or legal guardians may apply for tuition assistance without providing information concerning their income, but in such cases, it shall be presumed that their income is greater than three hundred percent of the maximum annual income allowed to qualify for reduced price meals pursuant to the National School Lunch Program for the purposes of determining the amount of the tuition assistance;

(b) Establishing the process for parents or legal guardians of participating students to withdraw those students from the tuition assistance program or transfer students to another eligible school participating in the tuition assistance program;

(c) Establishing appropriate safeguards to ensure that tuition assistance provided hereunder is spent only as permitted by this section, including but not limited to requiring that tuition assistance checks be signed over to the school chosen by the parents or legal guardians or requiring submission of receipts for the student’s tuition; and

(d) Requiring private schools participating in the tuition assistance program to file reports with the Superintendent of Public Instruction that are applicable to and appropriate for the operation of a private school and are no more onerous than those required for the public schools in this state.

Sec. 2. This amendment to Article 11 of the Nevada Constitution becomes effective January 1, 2011, for the purposes of enacting legislation and regulations authorized pursuant to this amendment and July 1, 2011, for all other purposes.

Sec. 3. Severability. If any provision of this initiative measure or its application to any person or circumstance is held to be invalid or ineffective, such provision shall be given the narrowest construction necessary to avoid such invalidity and shall not affect any other provision or application of this measure.