Republican Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson says he won’t vote for any budget that doesn’t include funding for Nevada’s voucher-style Education Savings Account (ESA) program.
Roberson made his ultimatum in a press release on Tuesday, after Democratic Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford told the Las Vegas Sun that Senate Democrats “are not interested in discussing the voucher program.”
“The ESA program is crucial to ensuring Nevada families have every opportunity to provide their children with the education that best fits their needs,” Roberson said. “If Democrats in the Legislature do not want to come to the table in good faith and have this discussion that is their prerogative, but let me make this absolutely clear -- I will not vote for a final budget that does not include funding for ESAs.”
The ESA program allows parents of public school children to claim more than $5,000 in state funding per child and use it for qualified educational expenses, such as private school tuition. It faced two lawsuits and wound up at the Nevada Supreme Court, where justices ruled that the program’s basic framework passes constitutional muster but the funding mechanism did not.
Gov. Brian Sandoval is calling for $60 million over the next two years to fund the program, but the proposal faces an uncertain path through the Democrat-controlled Legislature. Ford says he wants to see that money go to school choice options within the public school system, such as charter and magnet schools.
In a statement released later on Tuesday, the Assembly Democratic Caucus described Roberson's comments as a "threat against Gov. Sandoval's budget."
"We're at the table and ready to have a good faith discussion," said Assembly Democratic Speaker Jason Frierson. "I look forward to working with the Governor on the Governor’s budget."
--- Michelle Rindels
This brief has been updated to include comment from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson.
Study: Nevada not good at education
Nevada just barely escaped being in the bottom five of an education-related ranking.
The Silver State ranked as the 45th most educated state in the nation, according to a WalletHub analysis released today. To determine the rankings, WalletHub used a number of weighted metrics such as degree attainment, graduation rates and the quality of the public school systems and universities.
Massachusetts topped the list, followed by Maryland, Colorado, Connecticut and Vermont. The bottom five states, in order, were West Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Kentucky.
The study’s release comes less than two weeks before state lawmakers convene to discuss the governor’s budget and his proposal for Education Savings Accounts.
Nevada may outsource its prisoners
Nevada may rent 200 slots at an out-of-state private prison while it works to rein in its growing inmate population.
The Nevada Department of Corrections expects it will need 700 new inmate beds over the next two years. It’s working on a multi-pronged strategy to reduce that demand without taking the expensive step of building a new prison.
Officials want to remodel a building at Southern Desert Correctional Facility in Indian Springs in hopes of adding 200 beds to the prison, which has a capacity of nearly 2,150.
But it would need to move inmates out of that building temporarily while the project is underway. Gov. Brian Sandoval’s chief of staff, Mike Willden, said a private prison in Colorado could house the inmates for $12.4 million during the next two years.
The state is also trying to improve its parole and probation division so it can handle more inmates who are otherwise ready to be released. That includes adding several dozen employees to the parole staff and implementing a Day Reporting Center to offer services and accountability for parolees.
Willden says parole improvements should reduce demand for prison by about 300 or 400 people, and should eliminate the need for a new prison when combined with the prison remodel.
Nevada sometimes uses private prisons to house the estimated 13,000 inmates in its care. There’s a private prison operating in Pahrump, but it’s used exclusively as a detention center for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The state also rents beds in county jails when it needs to manage demand.
Bipartisan female legislators form Nevada Women's Caucus
A bipartisan group of female legislators has announced they’re teaming up to form the Nevada Women’s Caucus.
The group is spearheaded by Independent Sen. Patricia Farley, Democratic Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, Republican Sen. Becky Harris, Democratic Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams and Republican Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, all of whom will serve as leaders for their respective caucuses. The group will have their first organizing meeting on Feb. 10, open to all female legislators.
“Our goal is to work and support each other, women’s organizations, agencies, and other advocates to advance legislation, programs, and services that benefit women, children, and families,” the five legislators said in a statement.
The group will select an inaugural leader who will serve for two years, after which leadership will rotate between the parties, Harris said in a text message.
Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno said she hoped the women in her freshman legislative class will set an example for collaboration across party lines, noting that she has been talking with Tolles, Republican Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner and Democratic Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod about the caucus.
“I think as a whole we look at things a little bit different, but coming at that way, we’re all someone’s mom, someone’s daughter, sister or aunt, and those are things that move us forward,” Monroe-Moreno said in a recent interview.
Nevada is tied with Colorado and Vermont for the highest percentage of female legislators, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The state currently has 25 female legislators, 17 in the Assembly and eight in the Senate, who make up 40 percent of state lawmakers.
— Megan Messerly
Michele Fiore files to run for city council
Former Republican Assemblywoman Michele Fiore is officially running for a spot on the Las Vegas City Council.
Fiore is a two-term Assemblywoman who came to national prominence for her role in the Malheur Refuge and Bundy Ranch standoffs. She said in a statement announcing her bid for the Ward 6 seat that she'll "fight to keep crime low, our city services transparent and effective and keep our parks beautiful."
It's her first race since placing third in the 2016 Republican primary for the Congressional District 3 seat.
The seat is currently held by Steve Ross, a Democrat who is prevented from running again due to term limits. His wife, Kelli, plans to run for the seat, and Clark County School Board Trustee Chris Garvey is also planning to run.
— Riley Snyder
Collins files for council seat in NLV
After saying for months he would run against North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, ex-Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins said this morning he is filing for Ward 3.
That seat is now held by Anita Wood.
The Nevada Independent will update filings as they occur.
— Jon Ralston