Law & Courts

Nevada Supreme Court Rules on School Choice Program

By Arianna Prothero — September 29, 2016 2 min read
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This blog post was originally posted on the Charters and Choice blog.

The Nevada supreme court has ruled that the way the state’s groundbreaking school choice program is funded is unconstitutional.

Nevada’s education savings account program allows parents of public school students to pull their child out of a public school and take the state funding allocated to the child with them. They can then spend that money on private school tuition (including religious schools), home schooling materials, or a variety of other approved, education-related expenses.

The money is deposited in education savings accounts—thus the name.

Nevada’s ESA program is notable in its scope: Very few states have this type of program, and of those that do, they are limited to a small number of students—such as those with disabilities or from low-income families.

The program is open to all current public school students.

The supreme court’s decision is mixed news for both supporters and opponents of the program. The court took issue with the way the program was financed. It does not have its own dedicated funding source, and the court ruled it was illegal to take money allocated for public schools.

However, the court didn’t see a problem with the larger constitutional question: whether the state was unlawfully directing public money to private, religious institutions.

The program will remain suspended unless the funding source is changed. But that’s a relatively easy fix for state lawmakers, say school choice advocates.

“The court is basically saying, ‘Guys, this is constitutional; you just have to fund it a separate way,’ ” says Robert Enlow, the president and CEO of EdChoice, formerly the Friedman Foundation. “That’s huge news. That’s the first time a universal school choice program has been upheld in a state court.”

But Tod Story, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, which brought one of the lawsuits against the program, says changing the funding source is a bigger hurdle than it may look.

“The only way they can fund this program would be to reduce public school funding or raise taxes, and I don’t think legislators will do that,” he says. “I don’t think that voters would be supportive of that—raising taxes to send kids to private schools. That’s what we have public schools for.”

Around 8,000 students have applied for education savings accounts.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.