Vouchers Violate Nevada Constitutional Ban on Diverting Public School Funding to Private Schools
Las Vegas, NV – Today, five parents whose children attend Nevada public schools filed a lawsuit challenging the State’s new voucher law – Senate Bill 302. The lawsuit claims that the voucher law violates the Nevada Constitution’s explicit ban on using public school funding for private schools. The lawsuit also seeks to permanently block the State Treasurer from implementing the voucher program.
In enacting SB302, the Nevada Legislature authorized the most expansive program of private school vouchers in the United States. The voucher law directs the State Treasurer to deposit funds appropriated by the Legislature for the operation of the Nevada public schools into private accounts to pay for private school tuition, online classes, home-based curriculums and related expenses, tutoring, transportation to and from private schools, and other private expenses.
The parents and students filed the lawsuit, Lopez v. Schwartz, in the First Judicial District Court in Carson City. More public school parents and their children are expected to join the lawsuit in the coming weeks.
Educate Nevada Now (ENN), a campaign of The Rogers Foundation, assembled a team of experienced Nevada and national attorneys to ensure that Nevada law protects and advances education opportunities for all children. ENN is supporting this lawsuit because it addresses using public funding for private schools, an issue of vital importance to all Nevada public school children and taxpayers – and one that must be resolved by the Nevada courts.
“The Nevada Constitution makes it crystal clear that the funding provided for our public schools can only be used to operate those schools, and not for any other purpose,” said Justin Jones, an attorney with Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin LLP, Nevada-based pro bono counsel for the plaintiffs. “The voucher law, by taking funding out of the public schools to pay for private school tuition and other private services, blatantly violates this explicit mandate enshrined in our state constitution.”
The parents and students contend that the voucher law violates the Education Article of the Nevada Constitution in three ways:
- The voucher law by its terms diverts funds earmarked by the Legislature exclusively for the operation of the public schools to pay for private schools and other private expenditures.
- The voucher law reduces State-guaranteed funding for the public schools below the level determined to be sufficient by the Legislature in the biennium budgets.
- The voucher law allows public school funding to pay for private schools that do not have to comply with the “uniform” non-discrimination, education performance and accountability standards all Nevada public schools must follow.
The parents filed the lawsuit to prevent loss of funding from their children’s public schools to pay for private schools. Under SB302, even families who can readily afford to pay the full cost of private school tuition are eligible to receive public funds. The voucher law will reduce funding for the public schools while at the same time requiring those schools to educate a higher concentration of high needs children, including students with disabilities, English language learners, and students at risk due to family and neighborhood poverty, homelessness, transiency and other disadvantages.
“The voucher law undermines our uniform system of public schools which the Legislature is constitutionally obligated to maintain and support with sufficient funding,” said Sylvia Lazos, Policy Director for Educate Nevada Now. “This lawsuit does not challenge the right of parents to choose a private or religious school for their child. But it does seek to ensure that public school funding is not diverted and depleted by subsidizing that choice.”
The complaint filed today complements the lawsuit filed by ACLU-Nevada last week to block the use of taxpayer funds for religious schooling but raises a separate and independent basis under the Nevada constitution for invalidating the voucher law.
In addition to the Wolf, Rifkin attorneys, David Sciarra and Amanda Morgan of the non-profit Education Law Center (ELC) in Newark, NJ, and Las Vegas, a partner in the ENN campaign, are representing the students and parents. They are also represented pro bono by Tamerlin Godley, Litigation Partner, and associates from Munger, Tolles and Olson in Los Angeles.