Nevada high court OKs education voucher program

Education | Taxpayer-funded education savings accounts are constitutional but lawmakers must find new funding source
by Evan Wilt
Posted 10/04/16, 03:07 pm

The Nevada Supreme Court suspended implementation of the state’s extensive school choice program last week but left room for a future resurgence.

The Nevada program establishes separate funding accounts for parents to use for alternative forms of education—including private religious schools and homeschooling. The justices ruled that idea passed constitutional muster but found fault with the program’s funding source. The ruling allows Nevada lawmakers to re-work the legislation and sets a precedent for other states to pursue similar initiatives.

Last year, GOP lawmakers introduced the broad voucher program—regarded as the most extensive school choice program in the country—and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, quickly signed it into law. The legislation allows for any family to receive government aid for whatever education route parents deem best. Under the program, each family could access $5,100 per year, per child for tuition at private schools and to cover homeschooling expenses.

The law passed through Nevada’s general assembly on a party-line vote and immediately generated pushback. Democrats, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Educate Nevada Now, and others said a law that uses taxpayer money to pay for children to attend religious schools is unconstitutional.

But in a 33-page opinion, Nevada’s Supreme Court refuted that claim. In its 4-2 decision, the court said once the public funds go into an education savings account, the funds are no longer public. Instead, they are private funds for the individual parent who established the account. How parents spend that money is up to them and therefore does not conflict with the state’s requirement to only commit public funds for secular purposes, even if parents choose to use the money for religious education.

The court also ruled the voucher program does not conflict with the state’s constitutional duty to provide for a general and uniform system of common schools because the program is available to everyone.

But parents can’t start using their vouchers yet because the court said Nevada cannot divert money meant exclusively for public education into the new education savings accounts.

“Going forward, Nevada’s lawmakers would be wise to abandon their efforts to fund private education and focus on strengthening public schools,” Heather L. Weaver, an ACLU attorney, said after the court decision.

But immediately after the ruling, Sandoval began to contemplate how to get the program off the ground.

“[T]here may be a path for a legislative solution,” the governor said in a statement Thursday. “However, such a solution is complex and must be well thought-out to meet constitutional muster.”

Sandoval initially said he would begin to review options in the next legislative session in February. But the next day, The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the governor might bring it up as early as next week, during a special legislative session called to finance a new football stadium.

About 8,000 families have signed up for the voucher program but have been stuck in limbo for more than nine months awaiting a court decision.

While Nevada lawmakers figure out their next steps, Leslie Hiner, vice president of programs for EdChoice, told the Review-Journal Americans should expect to see similar programs begin to form in other states.

“Nevada really has inspired people in a serious way,” she said. “I’ve received text messages all afternoon from folks all across the country who were just excited about the ruling.”

EdChoice President Robert Enlow said he hopes Nevada legislators find a way to implement the program, but declared the ruling upholding the constitutionality of school choice is a major victory.

“This is a big win for thousands of Nevada families who are clamoring for schooling options to make sure their kids have an opportunity to succeed in life,” he said. “This landmark ruling affirms the legality of the program and denies challenges based on the type of schooling families might choose for their students.”

Evan Wilt

Evan is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Washington, D.C.

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Comments

  • TInaH's picture
    TInaH
    Posted: Tue, 10/04/2016 07:18 pm

    " In its 4-2 decision, the court said once the public funds go into an education savings account, the funds are no longer public. Instead, they are private funds for the individual parent who established the account. How parents spend that money is up to them and therefore does not conflict with the state’s requirement to only commit public funds for secular purposes, even if parents choose to use the money for religious education."

    We should not trust that legislators will abide by this. I expect it'll be appealed to the US Supreme Court and will likely be shot down there - even by so-called "conservative" justices. But even if they say the Nevada court decision stands, we cannot trust bureucrats to respect it. This whole thing is a Trojan Horse - once money hits government coffers, bureaucrats consider it theirs and feel they get to attach strings about how it's spent...and people are too willing to sell their souls for the bowl of pottage represented by a few dollars so too many will go along with the ensnarement - and I believe they'll find ways to regulate homeschoolers who are foolish enough to take the bait. Maybe I'm wrong - I hope I am - but there is no way I would take the chance on my family's freedom by being a guinea pig for this if it finally gets off the ground. Until government schools cease to exist, therefore eliminating the "need" for bureaucrats to coerce money from us to support them, we should not presume they'll give us something for nothing.

    If they really want to convince me - and other freedom-minded homeschoolers - that there are no strings, they should pass a law saying that no one who has a moral objection to the existence of government schools needs to pay anything to support them in the first place. It would be so much better if we could just keep our money and use it as we see fit; we shouldn't have to give it to the government and then be at the mercy of bureaucratic whims about whether or not - and under what circumstances - we're "allowed" to have it back. 

  • DIETRICH BAKER
    Posted: Wed, 10/05/2016 12:12 am

    As a Christian and public school teacher for 15 years, I'm becoming more and more convinced that the best school improvement program would be to give parents the choice of where they want to send their kids to school.  School choice would not only increase the quality of schools, but would positively affect our culture as well.  Unfortunately, teacher unions are too strong and more concerned with preserving the system than they are with doing what's best for kids and our society.  I'm hoping that we'll at least get to see Nevada give it a try.

  • SBTB's picture
    SBTB
    Posted: Wed, 10/05/2016 11:05 am

    The simplest and best solution is a tax credit (for all income levels) for homeschoolers and those who send their children to private schools.  This allows parents to spend their money as they see fit on their children's education without any strings attached.  It also eliminates the need for mid-level government employees to manage a Nevada-like solution, which makes the tax credit funding option more efficient by lowering administrative costs.

  • Tricia
    Posted: Tue, 11/29/2016 10:48 am

    As a homeschooling parent, I don't want any government money. As soon as you take government money or benefits there are strings attached. No thanks. I can homeschool my 3 kids for about $1000 a school year (not counting classes we take at a co-op - that takes it to about $2000 a year) for curriculum. The state gives public schools $10000 per kid. That should be plenty.

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