November 2016 Church & State - November 2016

Nevada Supreme Court Blocks Implementation Of School Voucher Plan

  AU admin

The Nevada Supreme Court in September permanently blocked fun­ding for a massive statewide school voucher program, ruling in two cases, one of which was sponsored by Americans United and its allies.

One of the cases, Duncan v. Nev­ada Office of the State Treasurer, was brought by Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Covington & Burling, LLP on behalf of five Nev­ada citizens.

The state high 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.

Under the program, which would have been the largest voucher scheme in the nation had it been 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 court didn’t strike the plan down on church-state grounds, but found that it violated other sections of the Nevada Constitution.

“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,” observed the court.

Americans United hailed the decision.

“The court properly recognized that tax dollars set aside for public education should pay for public schools, which are open to all students regardless of religion, race and sexual orientation,” Americans United Legal Director Richard B. Katskee, who argued one of the cases before the Nevada court, said in a press statement. “In doing so, the court also held that Nevada citizens are entitled to bring constitutional challenges to legislative expenditures that raise issues of significant public importance. That’s a critical new protection for the rights of all Nevadans.”

Even though the court put a stop to this voucher scheme, Nevada’s attorney general, Adam Laxalt, declared victory. He claimed there is an easy fix: All the state has to do is create a new source of funding for the vouchers.

But that “fix” would require Nev­ada lawmakers to impose massive new taxes on the state’s residents 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 of Nevada’s children. 

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