Nevada Parents Confident Court Will Block Unconstitutional Voucher Law
Las Vegas, NV – In court papers filed today, parents suing to block Nevada’s voucher law responded to the Attorney General and his backing of the State’s sweeping voucher program that will result in the diversion of critical funding earmarked solely for the education of children in the public schools. The response was filed in Lopez v. Schwartz – the lawsuit brought in September by parents of children in Nevada public schools.
The parents’ response refutes the State’s argument that the Legislature has broad authority to drain public school resources and ignore the Nevada Constitution and the intent of its Framers. The response includes a statement to the court from a leading Nevada historian, Michael Green of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who explains the historical context of the Nevada Constitution’s Education Article. He notes that the Framers of the Nevada Constitution clearly expressed the importance of public education during debates on its passage and that the provisions governing public education do not permit the voucher statute.
The response also explains that it is not permissible to divert funds from sources constitutionally pledged for public schools. Since funds to pay for vouchers are deducted directly from the Distributive School Account – an account consisting of funds appropriated solely for public education – the program violates the Nevada Constitution. Furthermore, since more recent amendments to the Nevada Constitution require the Legislature to fund public education before other budgetary allocations, allowing a program to siphon funds from that initial, protected allocation creates an additional constitutional violation.
“These parents are taking a courageous stand in this case to prevent the loss of substantial amounts of funding needed to provide teachers, staff, and programs in their children’s public schools,” said Sylvia Lazos, Policy Director for Educate Nevada Now. “We’re confident the courts will find for the public school parents and uphold the constitutional ban on using public school funding for private purposes.”
The response addresses the Defendant’s claim that the courts should not decide the case. Nevada courts have a long history of determining the constitutionality of statutes enacted by the Legislature. In fact, it is in the interest of all Nevadans that courts perform their role of “checks and balances” concerning the other branches of government and ensure that the protections and duties in the State constitution are realized.
Educate Nevada Now (ENN), a campaign of the Las Vegas-based Rogers Foundation, is supporting the parents’ lawsuit. The Foundation assembled a team of experienced Nevada and national attorneys to represent the parents to ensure State law protects and advances educational opportunities for all children. The Rogers Foundation supports the parents’ lawsuit because it addresses an issue of vital importance to all Nevada public school children and taxpayers – whether public school funding must be used to operate the public schools – which must be resolved by the Nevada courts.
In June, the Nevada Legislature passed the voucher bill, SB302, authorizing an unlimited program of private school vouchers. 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, home-based curriculums, tutoring, transportation and other private expenses. The voucher program is expected to drain millions from the public schools and trigger cuts to programs and services necessary to educate public school children across the State.
“The Nevada Constitution puts a high priority on public education for Nevada’s children, and the voucher law violates the Constitution’s express provisions,” said Tamerlin J. Godley, an attorney with Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP, the Los Angeles-based pro-bono counsel for the plaintiffs. “This unconstitutional law will undoubtedly have a devastating effect on the thousands of public school students who have a right to a quality education, and these parents deserve to have their voices heard in court.”
In addition to the Munger, Tolles and Olson attorneys, David Sciarra and Amanda Morgan of the non-profit Education Law Center (ELC) in Newark, NJ and Las Vegas, a Rogers Foundation partner, are representing the students and parents. Nevada attorneys Don Springmeyer, Justin Jones and Bradley Schrager of Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin LLP, also represent them pro bono.
Click here to view the filing.