Loan approved to jump start voucher program
The Board of Examiners Tuesday approved a $247,500 loan to the Treasurer’s Office to fund startup costs for the so-called Education Savings Account Program — essentially school vouchers.
Chief of Staff Grant Hewitt said the program is hugely popular with more than 1,000 applications from parents in little more than a week since they opened the doors to parents.
The program outlined in SB302 would allow parents to take a roughly $5,000 a year share of state money and feed it to private schools their children can attend.
Hewitt said the money would fund software construction and other needs to make sure the process is as digital as possible, reducing the need for a large number of new staff to manage the program.
He said it’s a loan that’s going to be paid back out of Distributive School Account funding that’s going to those private schools.
Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske asked why the law mandates those students attend public school for at least 100 days of a school year before they can move to a private school.
Hewitt said in conversation with the bill sponsor Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, it became clear the reason was money.
“There would be a $200 million hole in the budget if we allowed all 20,000 students in private school into the program on day one,” he said.
He said the law is a bit ambiguous as to how that requirement is applied and his office may have to ask the Legislative Counsel for a ruling on whether the student could meet the requirement by attending a single class at public school while going to private school and how to deal with pre-schoolers and other children under age 7.
In other action, the board:
• approved hiring an experienced former correctional lieutenant to provide training needed to get the new Stein Hospital open in Las Vegas.
State Health Officer Tracy Green told the governor, secretary of state and attorney general specific training will be needed in handling the inmates who will be at Stein when it will open as well as correctional posts at the existing Rawson-Neal Hospital.
She said the former employee worked for years at Lakes Crossing Center handling potentially dangerous mental health inmates and is uniquely qualified to provide the necessary training. Without it, she said, opening of Stein Hospital might have to be delayed, which could cause problems with the court ordered consent decree mandating mentally ill offenders be assessed and moved out of southern Nevada hospitals within 14 days.
She said the goal is to open Stein in November.
• Relaxed travel restrictions imposed by former Controller Kim Wallin as a money saving plan. Assistant Controller James Smack told the board the anticipated savings just haven’t materialized and the restrictions are tighter than the overall state travel rules that are eating up a lot of additional time in processing the lodging, travel and food claims.
• Approved the purchase of 110 vehicles, mostly for the state’s Fleet Services. Administrator Keith Wells told the board 83 new cars for his operation are about 10 percent of the total number of state vehicles under his control. He said it’s necessary to replace about that percentage each year since the state expects fleet vehicles to last a decade.
“These vehicles are used every day in a fleet setting and they just wear out,” he said.