The Nevada Supreme Court just decided to permanently block funding for a massive statewide school voucher program, which is great news for supporters of both church-state separation and public education.
In two cases decided today, the Nevada high court struck down S.B. 302, the law that created a voucher program to divert taxpayer dollars from public schools to private schools.
In those cases, including Duncan v. Nevada Office of the State Treasurer, which Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Covington & Burling, LLP filed on behalf of five Nevada citizens, the court ordered that the voucher program be permanently enjoined because it violates provisions of the Nevada Constitution requiring that money appropriated for public education actually be used to fund public schools.
Public schools are for everyone. Private schools are not. So why should everyone pay for private schools through vouchers?
Under the program, which would have been the largest voucher scheme in the nation if left in place, parents of students enrolled in public school for at least 100 days could transfer their children to participating private schools, including religious schools, and would have been eligible to receive more than $5,000 in public education funds to pay for tuition, textbooks and other costs. The funds were to be disbursed through so-called Education Savings Accounts, and there would have been no restrictions on how participating schools could use the money.
The two cases challenging the voucher program together argued that the funding scheme violates Article XI, Section 10, of the Nevada Constitution, which prohibits the use of public funds for any sectarian purpose, and Article XI, Sections 2 and 6, which require the legislature to use funds appropriated for public education to pay for the public schools.
The opinion holds: “we must conclude that the use of money that the Legislature appropriated for K-12 public education to instead fund education savings accounts undermines the constitutional mandates under Sections 2 and 6 to fund public education.”
Even though the court put a stop to this voucher scheme, Nevada’s attorney general is declaring victory. Adam Laxalt said there is a supposedly easy fix: All the state has to do is create a new source of funding for the vouchers.
But that means Nevada lawmakers would have to impose massive new taxes on Nevada’s citizens if they wish to appropriate money for a voucher program — even though taxpayers are already paying for a public-school system dedicated to serving all the state’s children. That sounds like bad policy for everyone.
The reality is, Nevada’s voucher scheme is little more than a bailout for religious schools at the expense of public schools. The state Supreme Court rightly struck it down.