News - February 16, 2017 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar
Nevada Newsmakers

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, was critical Thursday of the Republicans' Education Savings Account bill -- calling the program a "voucher" -- and saying poor children won't be able to take advantage of it.

The program would give parents about $5,100 annually to help defray the costs of sending their child to private or parochial school. The money would be that child's portion of what the state would otherwise spend to educate one child in a public school.

"The amount of a voucher -- and that is what it is -- does not amount to what it would take for every child to be able to take advantage of it," Frierson said on Nevada Newsmakers.

The money allotted to each child is still not enough for poorer families and students, who have other issues that tuition to deal with, Frierson said.

"Students have issues with transportation, issues of school supplies, they, of course, have issues with tuition. We need to sit down and talk about what all those needs are and come up with a plan that helps all children address those needs."

When asked if Gov. Brian Sandoval's proposal of putting $60 million into ESAs over the next two years was too much, Frierson said:

"I won't say that we're close to putting too much money into anything when it comes to our children in general. But specifically, ESAs are a separate conversation. It is not just a matter of how much money. It is a matter of what it is for."

When asked for an example of what he meant, Frierson said:

"Whether or not it is serving the needs of all children or ... just those who can afford it."

When asked about the state Senate Republicans who have already said they would not vote for the next general-fund budget -- expected to be more than $8 billion -- without it including the ESAs, Frierson said:

"It would be premature to draw a line in the sand before we even know what is on the other side of that line."

He also had a quip for those who think the ESAs will be part of a final deal cemented in the 11th hour of the 120-day legislative session:

"It's difficult to talk about what is going to be the last play in the fourth quarter when we just started the game," said Frierson, a star running back on the University of Nevada football team in the early 1990s.

Frierson also approved of a idea to make Clark County a sanctuary county, which has been proposed by Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani.

After Giunchiliani's proposal, state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, said he would introduce a bill at the Legislature that would allow the state to block funding to cities and counties that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Sanctuary cities and counties are defined as governments that do not prosecute unauthorized immigrants for violating federal immigration laws and allow access to city or county services.

"I'm not a county commissioner," Frierson said. "I think Clark County has their priorities and they have to reflect their constituency. I live in Clark County and I know there is a large number of voters that care about this issue, that want to be compassionate. We reflect family values and when we are talking about children who were born here, enabling the local of federal government to come in and tear up a family, that doesn't reflect our family values."

The cost of caring for some children from broken families that might be a result of immigration raids would be put on the taxpayer, Frierson said.

"And quite frankly, when we are talking about fiscal responsibility, we are leaving children that we have to care for and that costs the taxpayer," Frierson said. "So we have to be smart with the limited resources we have. I think we share, most of us, a common philosophy of being compassionate and making sure we put our focus and energy on our priorities. And trying to go after people who are not posing a danger to the community, simply because of some national political rhetoric, I don't think that reflects our values or our priorities."