By Lisa Friend
Worldwide, the United States is regarded as the land of opportunity. That is generally true for millions of Americans, but it may not be true much longer in the Battle Born State when it comes to education.
Three years ago, the State Legislature passed Senate Bill AB165, also known as the Nevada Opportunity Scholarship Program. This piece of legislation permits businesses to donate money to state-approved funds to help our state’s young people whose families currently find themselves living along the poverty margin and wish to take advantage of the chance to apply for a scholarship to attend a private school.
Since its approval in 2015, the positive impact of this program has extended beyond reasonable imagination with 366-percent growth in its participation. The beneficiaries of the legislation are not only the economically disadvantaged but also the underrepresented and students with disabilities whose needs extend beyond public capacity. This year, 69 percent of Nevada Opportunity Scholarship recipients come from minority households, with 41 percent coming from Hispanic and African-American households.
Predictably, though, a challenge to this program that is expected during the upcoming legislative session is threatening one of our nation’s and state’s greatest values – opportunity. Specifically, it threatens the opportunity for the working poor and those with children with profound emotional, social, and learning needs to apply for a scholarship to help provide them an individualized opportunity to help change the trajectory for their children.
Education is not one size fits all. Every student has unique needs, and every family has the right to identify and apply for the best education possible. I have profound respect for anyone who hears the call to teach, regardless of the orientation of the school.
I am a single mother of three who works, volunteers broadly, and manages our family’s finances in a fiscally-responsible manner to contribute to my children’s education in conjunction with the Nevada Opportunity Scholarship. The benefit they have received from being in a smaller environment, with excellent teachers, achieving tremendous results is simply immeasurable. I am happy to share my story and experiences with anyone and everyone so that others can consider their options as well. I truly believe in this program and the benefits that it has on all Nevadans who are current recipients and those who may, for unforeseen reasons, need this program in the future.
In the coming days, there will likely be misinformation shared that seeks to discredit this incredibly noble and worthwhile legislation that is benefiting hundreds of students across the State. To stay above the fray, I am not interested in sharing what I perceive to be the motives behind those individuals and organizations seeking to rescind or minimize this program, but rest assured, those challenges are coming. What I can do is present three pieces of information for even-minded readers to review, and encourage further study on the doe.nv.gov website.
First, it is critical to first remember that none of the monies associated with AB165 comes from any state revenue. All funding comes from private business who wish to give a financial avenue to the under-resourced, and that funding is managed by a select number of registered scholarship organizations.
Second, it is vital to understand that one of the key provisions of AB165 is that the program annually requires a means-tested process to validate eligibility. For parents with a student in college, think FAFSA. Those receiving support may be no higher than 300 percent of the poverty line.
Lastly, the opportunity gained by each student who is granted a scholarship simultaneously reduces the state’s overcrowded classes. The result is the opportunity for public school students to have a more individualized education as well.
Mine is but one small voice, but it speaks for something much bigger, the opportunity for families to have the rights and resources to the best education possible for students. If you agree, I encourage you to text a message to 52886 and in the “Text Message” field, type NVOSP. That prompts a link on how Nevadans can ensure this important legislation remains in place.
Let’s not allow the Battle Born State be drawn into conflict over opportunity. Let’s embrace it for the greater good.