Nevada’s Education Savings Account Program Facing Second Lawsuit


Nevada's new Education Savings Account (ESA) is coming under attack again, with the group Educate Nevada Now suing the state on the basis that they believe the program is unconstitutional.

The ESA gives parents the opportunity to use state funds to assist them in paying for their child's private school tuition or a host of other education-related expenses. Stephanie Eisenberg of KLAS-TV says Educate Nevada Now has stated that public school funds should be used on public education.

The ACLU, along with the Nevada ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, have already filed a suit against the state because the organizations say the state is using public money for tuition payment to religious schools, an act that goes against the separation of church and state. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval said the lawsuits "potentially deprive parents of the opportunity to determine the educational future of their children."

Neal Morton of the Las Vegas Review-Journal quoted Justin Jones, an attorney with the Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin law firm that provided pro bono counsel for the parents, who summarized the plaintiffs' challenges to the law:

"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. 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."

Nevada state lawmakers approved the creation of the savings accounts, which would give around $5,000 in per-pupil funding to families to use for private schools, home schooling, transportation, and other education services. The plaintiffs argue that the ESA bill takes funding for public schools to an insufficient level and yet does not require private schools to follow the same state law requirements as public schools in the areas of non-discrimination and accountability.

Proponents of the ESA say that the law allows parents, not the government, to decide where to spend their education money. On Wednesday, the state treasurer's office announced continuation of applications for early enrollment in the ESA program in spite of the ACLU suit.

KTVN-TV published a statement by Sandoval which said, in part:

"My position has not changed. I strongly support school choice and I firmly believe that an expedited hearing and, if necessary, a final ruling by the Nevada Supreme Court is in the best interest of all parties. I hope that these cases will be consolidated in the interest of judicial economy because they both target the same legislation and potentially deprive parents of the opportunity to determine the educational future of their children."

Seven parents filed the lawsuit in Carson City's First Judicial District Court on Wednesday. Five parents have children in Las Vegas area schools, and two parents have children in Reno public schools. Educate Nevada Now is expecting more parents to join the suit, says Trevon Milliard of The Reno Gazette-Journal.

This spring, education groups and activists such as the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund formed a coalition when the ESA was proposed.

"This lawsuit does not challenge the right of parents to choose a private or religious school for their child, " said Sylvia Lazos, policy director for Educate Nevada Now. "But it does seek to ensure that public school funding is not diverted and depleted by subsidizing that choice."

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