Brian Underwood: Data shows Opportunity Scholarship is working

A report released Feb. 8 by the Nevada Department of Education showed nearly 70 percent of students receiving the Nevada Opportunity Scholarship experienced a positive score change based on six standardized measurements utilized.

The NDE study reflected results from a sample of 149 students on six assessments based on consecutive number of years as a scholarship recipient. This methodology was selected so progress could be tracked across a single assessment for each student, according to the NDE. The measurements included the ACT Aspire, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Measure of Academic Progress, PSAT, Terra Nova, and Terra Nova 3.

Evidence of the program’s academic merit comes at a time when lawmakers are debating whether to continue current funding for this means-tested program that affects more than 2,300 Nevada students, 69 percent of whom identify with minority classes. At specific issues is the continuance of a $20 million allocation made during the last biennial legislative session. Potentially at risk of losing their scholarship are nearly 1,000 students whose families reside within 300 percent of poverty. Ninety-four percent of the students fall below 250 percent of the federal poverty line, with the average household income of students participating in the program at $45,694 for a family of four.

“The NDE study clearly demonstrates the academic prosperity enjoyed by students receiving the scholarship,” said Valeria Gurr, Nevada state director for the American Federation for Children. “The potential for disrupting the educational progress experienced by these students who already face socio-economic challenges would not only disenfranchise these high-achieving students, but also negatively impact overcrowded public school class sizes.”

The call to lawmakers to keep program funding at its current levels was heard early, often, and passionately on the first day of the 80th legislative session. Facing a full agenda on its first day, the Senate Budget Finance Committee heard more than two hours of testimony from a parade of well organized and articulate students, parents, grandparents, educational advocates, and administrators at the Legislature, and remotely in Clark County. Local residents with no children impacted by the issue testified and expressed concern over the vulnerability of some of the state’s top academic achievers if the structure of the program changed.

A formidable groundswell of support for preserving the Nevada Opportunity Scholarship is mounting from a variety of constituencies organized by AFC, Nevada School Choice Coalition, Nevada Action For School Options, and ExcelinEd in Action. On the vanguard of this effort are students, parents, and community members representing 90 schools who are organized and ready to protect the program. The strong refrain being heard by lawmakers is the evidence of academic success by students in the program, and importance of considering individual needs for individual students.

“Education is not one size fits all,” Gurr explains. “Students have unique needs, and parents have the right to seek out what is best for their children. Concurrently, benefactors to the scholarship funds also have the right to support education in a manner that provides the best academic results.”

Brian Underwood is the Sierra Lutheran High School Director of School Development.


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