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October 21, 2020

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School choice is hot topic at RNC watch party in Las Vegas

Republican National Convention Watch Party

Steve Marcus

Gary Sayre watches the Republican National Convention during a watch party at the Black Voices Community Center, a Trump Victory field office, on North Decatur Boulevard Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020.

Republican National Convention Watch Party

Evelyn Sayre, left, and Michele Barnes applaud during a Republican National Convention watch party at the Black Voices Community Center, a Trump Victory field office, on North Decatur Boulevard Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. The woman were applauding as President Trump granted a pardon to Las Vegan Jon D. Ponder, founder and CEO of Hope for Prisoners, for his work to reintegrate formerly incarcerated people back into society. Launch slideshow »

Trump Victory Phone Bank

Debra Knowles-Hill makes a phone call as her husband George Hill holds their dog Belle, a two-year-old Papillion, during a phone bank in the Trump Victory Asian American Pacific Islanders field office on West Spring Mountain Road Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. Belle is also a Trump supporter, they said. Launch slideshow »

Republicans gathered Tuesday evening in Las Vegas to discuss education issues and rally supporters for President Donald Trump ahead of the second night of the Republican National Convention.

The event served as both a community discussion and a watch party for the convention in Charlotte, N.C., which is being held almost entirely virtually because of the pandemic.

When it comes to education, Republicans are generally strong advocates of school choice programs, which have been an issue in Nevada in recent years. School choice refers to programs that offer children an alternative to public schooling, generally paid for by some sort of public funding.

Supporters of school choice claim that it allows increased parental control over education and allows children in poorer-performing districts to enroll in better-performing private schools. Opponents say that school choice will take away funding and support from public education.

In a recent interview on Fox News, Trump said that school choice would be a priority in his second term. His administration previously took steps to advance the cause, including sending $85 million to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and supporting so-called Education Freedom Scholarships, a proposal that would send around $5 billion in tax credits annually into locally controlled scholarship programs.

Nevada had its own opportunity scholarship program enacted in 2015. Households that do not exceed 300% of the federal poverty level are eligible for scholarships, which are funded by certain businesses that pay into an approved scholarship grant organization and receive a tax credit.

The state also had, at one point, the Education Savings Accounts program, which would have provided state funding for students wishing to go to private school. That bill was passed in 2015 when Republicans had control of the Legislature and governor’s mansion, but Democrats successfully blocked funding to the program in 2017 after regaining control of the statehouse the year before, and axed it entirely in 2019.

State Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, spoke at the Republican event. A longtime proponent of school choice, Hammond worked as a teacher for years and sponsored the 2015 bill that created ESAs.

Hammond says that school choice, which was mentioned by multiple speakers on the first night of the convention, remains popular. This is especially true, he said, during the chaos around school reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Families prefer the ability to determine their children's futures, he said.

“I think that this message is going to resonate really well. What you heard last night at the convention over and over again (is that) people today, I don’t care if you are  talking about Republicans or Democrats — we’ve done a lot of the polling — millennials, whatnot, they all love customization,” Hammond said.

The atmosphere at the watch party was enthusiastic. While Trump lost Nevada in 2016 to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by 2 percentage points, his campaign has consistently stated that it sees Nevada as a state in play for the president.

Denise Mraz, the policy director for Kamau Bakari, a congressional candidate running as a third-party candidate with the Independent American Party, said she’s been a Trump supporter for years.

“I’ve been working on reelecting Trump since his inauguration because we knew he was going to be doing great things,” Mraz said.

Miguel Navarro, who volunteers for Bakari and Trump, called former Vice President and 2020 Democratic nominee Joe Biden a career politician with little to show for four decades in Washington. Biden is facing Trump in the November general election.

“We’re in the right party, we’re in the right place,” he said. “Doom-and-gloom Democrats, there’s no enthusiasm for them. There’s tons of enthusiasm for our Republican people.”

Patrick Casale, a Nevada delegate who did not travel to North Carolina for the convention, criticized the administration of former President Barack Obama, stating that much of the work he did hurt small businesses.

“Let’s face it, the Obama administration handcuffed small businesses and large businesses with all these mandatory regulations,” Casale said. “Those regulations just don’t work in the business world.”

Casale said he saw “youth” and “diversity” on the first night of the convention that he hadn’t seen before, and called young people ”charged” for Trump.

“These young guys and gals are working their butts off,” Casale said.