Several parents joined a few state lawmakers Thursday morning to discuss the Education Savings Account program, one of the most divisive issues of the 2017 legislative session.
The roundtable was hosted by state treasurer Dan Schwartz, who has been a staunch supporter of ESAs.
The ESA program allows parents around $5,000 in state funding that can be spent on alternative schooling such as private school, tutoring and therapies for students with disabilities, for example.
Students must attend a public or charter school for at least 100 days to become eligible
Republican Sen. Scott Hammond is spearheading the effort, and he spoke with a dozen or so pro-ESA parents in both Carson City and Las Vegas Thursday morning. Republican Assembylman Al Kramer also attended.
Hammond said the draft is “pretty much ready” to be introduced to lawmakers, but reminded parents the biggest question remains how to properly fund the program.
Governor Brian Sandoval proposed $60 million be spent on ESAs in his 2017 State of the State address. In his proposal, $25 million would be spent in year one and $35 million spent in year two.
One of the details yet to be clarified is whether the program will truly be universal, something Hammond supports.
Trina Smith has 10 kids, seven of whom are foster kids. She believes her children with special needs should be able to get more money.
“Children that have a bigger need should have more money come in,” Smith said. “It would be nice if there was a set amount that they have set and that they would allow a certain amount (more) for special needs.”
A few parents suggested the biggest roadblock to getting ESAs through the legislature is changing how the program is viewed in the public eye. Democrats, especially Senate Democratic leader Aaron Ford, have been referring to it as a “voucher program.”
“It is a bit of a PR nightmare because it actually in the end could help the public system and alleviate crowding, allow our teachers to teach in smaller classrooms,” Robin Brockelsby said. “Without having the right information out there, nobody quite knows what’s going on, which instills a little bit of the fear of the unknown.”