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Lombardo picks former state senator, school choice advocate as chief of staff

A group of people with yellow signs and scarves pose for a photo in front of the Nevada Capitol.
Paul Boger
KUNR Public Radio
Students and supporters rally on the steps of the Nevada Capitol during National School Choice Week in 2019 in Carson City, Nev.

Earlier this week, Governor-elect Joe Lombardo announced his selection of former Northern Nevada Republican State Senator Ben Kieckhefer as his incoming chief of staff. What could that mean for education and Lombardo’s promised reforms?

In his November victory speech, Lombardo said he wanted to be known as “the education governor” and promised to expand school choice in the Silver State. However, when he announced his transition team, it did not include anyone with substantial education experience.

It did include Kieckhefer, though. During his time in the Nevada Senate, Kieckhefer was a prominent school choice advocate and helped create Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship program and the now-unconstitutional Education Savings Accounts.

Republican State Senator Scott Hammond worked alongside Kieckhefer. Hammond says Kieckhefer is not just a school choice advocate, he’s also an education advocate.

“He’s not solely looking at school choice as the answer. It’s really about, how do we make education, whether it’s public education, private education, charter education, whatever education the students and the parents choose, we’ve got to make it better,” Hammond said. “He’s all about that. The beauty is he can reach across the aisle and work with people.”

Hammond is looking to expand the Opportunity Scholarship program, create more options for special education students, and allow high school students to earn credit through internships with companies in the upcoming session. School choice critics have long held that programs that utilize public funds to finance private education pull money away from the public school system.

Gil Lopez is the Executive Director of the Charter School Association of Nevada. His organization takes no stance on school choice legislation. Instead, it focuses on increasing funding for public charter schools, especially for new facilities, through legislation.

Yet, Lopez complimented the Kieckhefer hire.

“I think Kieckhefer brings a lot of experience, the legislative experience, coupled with knowledge of the budget, and just knowing who the different players are when it comes to the education arena, the education scene,“ Lopez shared. “It’s going to put him in a very good position to kind of steer the boat.”

Since resigning from the legislature in October 2021, Kieckhefer has served on the state gaming commission and works as the director of client relations for prominent Reno law firm McDonald Carano.

Jose Davila IV is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Jose Davila IV reports on K-12 education with a focus on Latino students and families in Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra. He is also a first-year Report for America corps member. Es bilingüe, su familia es de Puerto Rico, y ama los tostones de su padre más que nada.
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