Taxpayers Assail Nevada School Vouchers

     LAS VEGAS (CN) – Nevada’s new school voucher program is a backhanded and illegal attempt to siphon “unlimited amounts of taxpayer funds” from public education and send it to private religious schools, taxpayers claim in court.
      Nevada Senate Bill 302 created the Nevada Education Savings Account Program, better known as the state’s voucher program. Republican Governor Brian Sandoval signed the bill into law in June. It is to take effect next year.
     But it’s unconstitutional, says lead plaintiff Ruby Duncan, a grandmother who had a Las Vegas elementary school named in her honor in 2008. Her co-plaintiffs include a retired rabbi and three other state taxpayers, one of whom is the father of a public school student.
     “This program allows public money to be spent at intuitions which operate with sectarian missions and goals and impart sectarian curricula. This is exactly what the Nevada Constitution forbids,” ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Tod Story said. The ACLU represents the plaintiffs in the Aug. 27 lawsuit in Clark County Court.
     The law allows a student in any Nevada private school to get a grant equal to the statewide average support per pupil, as an “education savings account:” $8,339 in fiscal year 2013, according to U.S. Census figures – down 8 percent since FY 2009, and about 22 percent below the nationwide average in state spending.
     “If allowed to proceed, Nevada’s Education Savings Account Program will unconstitutionally divert millions of dollars in public education funds to private schools – the majority of which are religious,” the lawsuit states.
     The right-wing Las Vegas Review Journal, the state’s biggest newspaper, called the voucher program a “leap forward,” and the Cato Institute said it “will allow parents to better tailor their children’s education to meet their unique learning needs.”
     But the plaintiffs say the law “allows private religious schools to receive unlimited amounts of taxpayer funds and to use those funds for religious education, indoctrination and discrimination.”
     “While parents have a right to send their children to religious schools, the Nevada Constitution prohibits them from doing so at taxpayers’ expense,” the complaint states.
     The voucher program also will send tax money to schools that discriminate in admissions and employment,” ACLU senior attorney Heather Weaver said in a statement.
     The Nevada Supreme Court “has strictly enforced” Article X1, Section 10 of the Nevada Constitution, which prohibits the use of public money “‘for sectarian purpose,'” according to the complaint.
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that voucher program is unconstitutional, an injunction against deposits the “education savings accounts,” and costs of suit.
     ACLU attorney Amy Rose, who filed the lawsuit, was not available for comment Tuesday.
     The Nevada Department of Education would not comment.

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