By Ben Velderman

CARSON CITY, Nev. – Gov. Brian Sandoval is putting his political muscle behind a $5 million tax scholarship plan that would allow many Nevada children from low-performing school districts to attend the private school of their choice.

piggybank scholarship appOn Monday, members of Sandoval’s administration presented the tax scholarship plan – Senate Bill 445 – to the Senate Finance Committee, reports the Associated Press.

Under Sandoval’s plan, businesses that donate to the scholarship fund would receive “a dollar-for-dollar tax break on their modified business tax liabilities,” the AP reports.

The program would be capped at $5 million, and the funds “would be used to help pay private-school tuition for students from low-performing public schools,” reports the Las Vegas Sun.

Students from families with a household income of up to three times the federal poverty level could qualify for the scholarships, which would be handed out on a “first-come, first-served” basis, the Sun reports.

Sandoval aides have described the measure as one of the governor’s “top priorities” for the 2013 legislative session.

In presenting the proposal to lawmakers, Interim Superintendent of Public Instruction Rorie Fitzpatrick pointed to research that finds “competition is driving improvement in the public schools.”

“Poverty should not be a sentence for education failure,” Fitzpatrick added, according to the AP.

Predictably, the local defenders of public education’s status quo – the Nevada State Education Association and the Nevada Association of School Boards – panned the plan as potentially taking money away from government schools.

Sandoval apparently anticipated the establishment’s response, because he also announced yesterday that his new K-12 budget would provide significant spending increases to fund all-day kindergarten, class size reductions, programs for English learners, and other initiatives.

All told, Sandoval wants to increase per-pupil aid by $377 by 2015, reports

That politically shrewd move shows that Sandoval is serious about getting the tax scholarship plan across the legislative finish line.

As for concerns that the tax scholarship plan would violate Nevada’s constitutional prohibition of using taxpayer money for religious purposes, Gerald Gardner – Sandoval’s chief of staff – noted that courts have ruled that similar state programs do not violate the separation of church and state.

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