Democrats reject Gov. Lombardo’s funding request for private school vouchers

Democrats reject Gov. Lombardo’s funding request for private school vouchers

Lawmakers rejected the governor’s emergency request, and blamed the program’s alleged funding shortfall on one of the nonprofits tasked with administering the private school scholarship program. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes, File)

By Isabel Soisson

August 11, 2023

Update, 8/14/23: Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo on Friday announced that the AAA Scholarship Foundation volunteered to use its reserve funds to ensure that no students who qualify under state law lose access to private school vouchers this year.

Nevada’s Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday rejected Gov. Joe Lombardo’s request to allocate $3.2 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for Nevada’s private school voucher program.

In a party line vote, the Interim Finance Committee (IFC) rejected the governor’s emergency request for the Opportunity Scholarship program, which was launched in 2015 and uses taxpayer dollars to subsidize the cost of attending private schools for students from low- and middle-income families.

Lombardo requested the funds last month to cover the program’s alleged budget shortfall. As the Nevada Current reported, Democrats argued that the program was adequately funded and placed much of the blame for the lack of available funding on the AAA Scholarship Foundation, a Florida-based nonprofit that claimed all of the Opportunity Scholarship money available ($6.6 million) for the 2023-24 school year. 

This left no funding for the five other authorized nonprofits that can accept donations for the scholarship program from businesses, who get tax credits in return for contributing.

These six scholarship granting organizations (SGOs) must submit applications to the Department of Taxation in order to receive funds, and these applications are considered and approved on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

This year, the Nevada Current reports, representatives from the AAA Scholarship Foundation were in Carson City the day the taxation department opened their submission window and maxed out the funding available. 

Three of the SGOs then worked alongside Lombardo’s office to request extra funding, but Democrats objected to the effort, in part because AAA still has $13 million sitting in its reserves, while the other SGOs have a combined $5 million in reserves.

Some of the other SGOS—the Education Fund of Northern Nevada—have said they don’t need additional funding due to their reserves, but others, like Silver State Scholarships and the Student Choice Fund asked for more funding, and argued that some of their scholarship recipients will lose their vouchers if extra dollars aren’t provided.

Democrats expressed sympathy for students who may now be at risk of losing their vouchers, but argued that AAA should work to help the other SGOs instead of asking the state to spend more on the program.

“You can easily take out $3 million plus the (money you earn off interest) and fix the situation,” Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow said at Wednesday’s meeting. “I don’t understand why you’re coming to the state and asking our taxpayers to fund your greed. Because that’s what this is. Your organization knew you didn’t need that much money based on previous budgets.”

Denise Lasher, a volunteer consultant for AAA who appeared at the IFC meeting, said that AAA was unaware that some of the SGOs wouldn’t have enough saved for a budget emergency. She made no commitment, and said that legislators were making AAA a “scapegoat.”

  • Isabel Soisson

    Isabel Soisson is a multimedia journalist who has worked at WPMT FOX43 TV in Harrisburg, along with serving various roles at CNBC, NBC News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine.

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