Parents Call Nevada School Vouchers Illegal*
By Laney Olson
Nevada is about to divert $100 million from public schools to private ones through an unconstitutional voucher program, parents of 10 children claim in a request for an injunction to stop it.
Lead plaintiff Hellen Quan Lopez sued State Treasurer Dan Schwartz in Carson City Court, claiming Senate Bill 302 , the Education Savings Account Program, violates the Nevada Constitution.
The bill, which took effect Jan. 1, authorizes the parent of a child who has attended a public school for 100 days anytime in his or her life to get $5,000 a year in state tax money to send the child to private school or teach them at home or online.
More than 20,000 children are enrolled in private schools in Nevada, which would take more than $100 million in tax dollars away from public schools and send it to private ones, according to the complaint.
However, “The Education Article of the Nevada Constitution expressly prohibits the use of public school funds for anything other than the operation of Nevada’s public schools,” the complaint states.
“The voucher statute plainly violates this and other provisions of the Nevada Constitution and will have serious deleterious effects on Nevada and its children.”
The vouchers also will allow spending of public money on schools that violate laws against discrimination, according to the request for an injunction.
Nevada schools are not very well-funded, by national standards. A 2012 U.S. Census Bureau report, “ Public Education Finances ,” ranked Nevada 45th of the states in per pupil spending in public schools – $2,400 per student below the national average.
The Reno Gazette-Journal reported last year that the state had fallen to 49th.
Quan Lopez et al. sued the state in September, and on Oct. 20 asked for a preliminary injunction, along with co-plaintiffs Educate Nevada Now and the Rogers Foundation.
The State Treasurer’s Office “has done the preregistration and will be giving away fund money in February,” said Tamerlin Godley, plaintiffs’ attorney with Munger, Tolles and Olson. She said the injunction is intended to put a hold on the voucher accounts until a ruling on the lawsuit.
Treasurer Schwartz’s Chief of Staff Grant Hewitt has said that the vouchers will not reduce funding for public education because parents of private school students still pay property taxes. He claimed that fixed costs of schools, such as teacher salaries and maintenance, remain the same regardless of how many students leave. He added:
“The students that are left are more expensive, like the ELL [English language-learners] and low-income students.”
Supporters of public education call Godbey’s claims absurd.
The lawsuit does not challenge property taxes; it challenges where the tax money goes. Nor do fixed costs remain the same if students leave, as teachers, administrators and staff will be dismissed with dwindling enrolment, and schools could close.
Also, public schools receive federal funding based on average daily attendance, so the loss of each student costs a school district thousands of federal dollars. And it is difficult to see how burdening public schools with higher percentages of low-income students and English language learners would improve public schools, or even leave them at Nevada’s already low level.
No hearing has been set on the request for an injunction.
Godley is assisted by Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman and Rabkin in Las Vegas and the Education Law Center of New Jersey.