Parents Fight Nevada’s School Vouchers

     CARSON CITY, Nev. (CN) – Nevada’s school voucher program – “the most expansive voucher program ever instituted in the United States” – unconstitutionally diverts tax money from public schools, parents of 10 children claim in court.
     Lead plaintiff Hellen Quan Lopez’s lawsuit is the second this summer to challenge the constitutionality of Senate Bill 302 , the Educational Savings Account Program.
     Republican Governor Brian Sandoval signed it into law in June, to take effect next year.
     The Nevada Constitution “expressly prohibits the use of public school funds for anything other than the operation of Nevada’s public schools,” Lopez says in the Sept. 9 complaint in the state’s First Judicial District Court.
     But S.B. 302 “directs the State Treasurer to deposit funds appropriated by the Legislature for the operation of the Nevada public schools into private accounts to pay for private school tuition, online classes, home-based curriculums and related expenses, tutoring, transportation to and from private schools, and other private expenses,” according to the complaint.
     The voucher program will send more than $5,000 a year to any student taught at home, online, or in a private school, so long as he or she has attended a public school, part time or full time, just once in their life, according to the lawsuit.
     With 20,000 students already in Nevada private schools, the program will subsidize private schools with more than $102 million a year. The actual cost will be more than that, because the state does not track how many children are home-schooled or taught online.
     Vouchers will send public money to schools that discriminate by religion and sex, may discriminate against children because of their disabilities, sexual orientation, language, homelessness, poverty or need for special education, the lawsuit states.
     In doing so, it will “increase the concentration in the public schools of students who are low income, English language learners, immigrants, homeless, transient and otherwise at-risk and in need of additional educational programs,” and reduce funding for teachers, staff and programs that serve these children.
     Lopez’s attorney Justin Jones called SB 302 “definitely a broad overreach.”
     “There are similar programs in other states, but they’re not as broad,” Jones said. “In Colorado and Washington, the programs have been thrown out in court.”
     Similar constitutional challenges to school voucher programs have been filed in Florida and North Carolina . A state judge threw out North Carolina’s law as unconstitutional.
     Nevada Treasurer Dan Schwartz is the defendant in Lopez’s lawsuit. His chief of staff Grant Hewitt said the voucher program will help schools by encouraging competition.
     It “encourages public schools to make improvements in order to keep students from transferring,” Hewitt said.
     Hewitt said vouchers will not reduce funding for public schools. He said that parents whose children go to private school will still pay property taxes, which will lead to “more money per student.”
     The State Treasurer’s Office will continue accepting applications for the Education Savings Accounts.
     Lopez et al. want S.B. 302 declared unconstitutional and enjoined. Attorney Jones is with Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman and Rabkin, in Las Vegas. He is assisted by Munger, Tolles & Olson of Los Angeles and the Education Law Center of Newark, N.J.

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