Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposal to help lower-income students afford private schools passed the Nevada Senate in party-line vote on Tuesday and is now headed to his desk for final approval.
Senators approved AB165, which proponents say will help students leave lower-achieving schools and attend one of the estimated 200 private schools in the state that might be financially out of reach.
“This is an important piece of legislation as we offer parents more control over their children’s education,” said Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno.
The bill would give businesses credit toward their modified business tax bill if they donated to a qualifying organization that awards scholarships. Those awards would be given to students whose household income doesn’t exceed 300 percent of the poverty level — about $73,000 a year for a family of four.
Democratic opponents say the measure diverts money that might otherwise benefit public education, and said it’s not targeted enough to the lowest-income families.
“It serves as a tax break for wealthier families as opposed to an opportunity for lower-income families to attend private school,” said Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, who said a threshold of 185 percent of the poverty level would be more appropriate.
Democrats have characterized the scholarships as vouchers — a term that state Superintendent Dale Erquiaga argued isn’t accurate. Money for the scholarships wasn’t coming from state educational funds, as a voucher would, but was a tax credit that dealt with money that never reached state coffers, he said.
Erquiaga added that the tax being deferred feeds into the general fund, but it does not feed into the account that pays for schools.
The bill caps state tax credits at $10.5 million over two years, and it caps scholarships at $7,755 apiece. Organizations administering the scholarship must be a 501(c)3 nonprofit, can spend no more than 5 percent on overhead and may not limit their awards to a single school.