Nevada lawmakers pass regulations for school choice program

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A panel of lawmakers approved regulations Wednesday for Nevada's new Education Savings Account program, even though the rules contain controversial perks for military families and kindergartners.

The Legislative Commission's Subcommittee to Review Regulations passed the rules Wednesday on a split vote, with all three Democrats opposed. The move was the final hurdle for the state treasurer's office to adopt regulations for the program, which is expected to start disbursing money to thousands of Nevada families in February if courts don't put it on hold.

The program lawmakers authorized this spring allows families to claim a majority of their child's per-pupil state education funding and apply it toward qualified expenses such as private school tuition. Students must attend public school for at least 100 days before becoming eligible — a rule aimed at preventing all of Nevada's current private school students from jumping in the program at once and straining the state budget.

The regulations spell out implementation details for the program, and also exempt military families and kindergartners from the 100-day requirement. Military mothers testified that the exemption would allow more stability for their children, who already struggle with frequent moves.

Democratic opponents say the exemptions supported by Treasurer Dan Schwartz exceed the parameters of the original bill and the treasurer's authority. State lawyers also raised concerns that the exemptions went too far.

To clarify the ambiguities, Republicans pushed a nonbinding resolution through the Legislature in the final moments of a special session this month that says lawmakers' original intent would have been to support the two exemptions. But Senate Democratic leader Aaron Ford referred to the unexpected measure as "resolution by ambush" and said minutes from this spring's session show no substantial discussion about any exemptions to the 100-day rule.

Ford also said Wednesday that the regulations are controversial enough that they should have been considered by the larger Legislative Commission but wouldn't have passed there. The commission includes 12 members and is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, while the seven-member subcommittee leans Republican.

Democrats stressed that they support military families, but they oppose efforts to exempt them from the rule through regulations instead of going through the traditional legislative process.

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