Parents Ask Nevada Supreme Court to Maintain Injunction Halting Controversial Voucher Program

Educate Nevada Now, powered by The Rogers Foundation, Stands with Nevada’s Public School Children

LAS VEGAS, NV (March 28, 2016) — Nevada public school parents, who secured an injunction to halt the controversial Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher program, filed a legal brief on Friday urging the State Supreme Court to keep the injunction in effect. Educate Nevada Now, powered by The Rogers Foundation, supports the public school parents’ efforts.

The ESA program is authorized by Senate Bill 302 (SB 302), passed by the Legislature in June 2015. The law allows the State Treasurer to take funds from public school budgets and use them for private school tuition and other private education expenses. 

On January 11, 2016, Judge James Wilson of the First Judicial District Court in Carson City halted the program, finding that ESAs would divert funds from public schools and reduce those funds below the amount determined sufficient to operate the schools, in violation of the Nevada Constitution.  Judge Wilson also found the loss of public school funds – estimated at $20 million in the first year alone – would cause “irreparable harm” to public school children.

State Treasurer Dan Schwartz appealed Judge Wilson’s decision to the Nevada Supreme Court. On Friday, March 25, 2016, the parents filed an opposition to protect the injunction that has kept the voucher program from going into effect.

In the brief filed with the Supreme Court, the parents ask the Court to affirm Judge Wilson’s ruling and maintain the injunction blocking the ESA program. The brief underscores that the “Education First” amendments to the Constitution, approved by the voters in 2016, requires the Legislature to fund the public schools first in the state budget and places those funds in a “lock-box” to be used only for the operation of the public schools.  SB 302 violates this requirement by transferring the funds approved by the Legislature to operate the public schools to private schools through ESAs.

The brief notes that, if the Treasurer’s view of the Nevada Constitution is correct, the State could use money set aside for public schools “to pay for roads, jails or any other expenditure,” or could include those types of expenditures in the bills funding public education. This would be contrary to the language in the Constitution and the intent of the Education First amendment. 

The brief also argues that SB 302 would allow funding for “non-uniform” private schools in violation of the Constitution’s requirement that the Legislature maintain a system of “uniform” public schools.  Unlike public schools, private schools can exclude or discriminate against certain students, including students who are English Language Learners, special education, LGBTQ, low-income, or academically at-risk, for virtually any reason. Private schools also do not have to follow State-adopted curriculum or give state tests.

The State Treasurer will have the opportunity to file a reply brief and then the Nevada Supreme Court willreview the briefs and decide whether to schedule arguments before the Justices. 

“The voucher law is blatantly unconstitutional, and as Judge Wilson found, will harm – not help – Nevada’s public school children,” said Sylvia Lazos, ENN Policy Director. “We are in full support of the parents who are standing up for their own children and the 460,000 students who count on our public schools to give them a sound education and a strong start in life.”

The pro bono legal team representing Nevada parents in this case includes: Tamerlin J. Godley, Samuel Boyd and Thomas Clancy of Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP; Don Springmeyer, Justin Jones and Bradley Schrager of Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin, LLP; and David G. Sciarra and Amanda Morgan of the nonprofit Education Law Center, a partner of ENN and The Rogers Foundation.