Education

Nevada judge upholds Education Savings Accounts program

Posted May 25

A state judge in Nevada has upheld the constitutionality of the state's Education Saving Account plan, which was passed in 2015 and would be the nation's most aggressive school choice program, if and when it finally clears legal hurdles, the Las Vegas Review Journal reports.

The legal challenge in Las Vegas was filed by the American Civil Liberties, which argued that because many of the schools available for use with the ESAs are religious, the bill represents an unconstitutional embrace of religion.

The judge ruled that because parents decide how to spend the money, the state is not drawn into directly supporting religious schools.

The ACLU had also argued that the law would strip local schools of much-needed funds, but the judge dismissed this argument as off point. Whether the ESAs are good or bad policy is not up to the courts to decide, he ruled.

“Whether Nevada’s ESA program is wise educational or public policy is not a consideration germane to the narrow issues of Nevada constitutional law that are before this court,” Judge Johnson wrote. “In the absence of a constitutional violation, the desirability and efficacy of the ESA program are matters to be resolved through the political/legislative process.”

The program is not out of the woods yet. In January, another state judge addressing a different question ruled against the program, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported. That judge found that the program violated a constitutional provision requiring the state to set aside money for public education. A fast track to the state's Supreme Court seems inevitable.

“Today's decision by Judge Johnson is a victory for thousands of Nevada families who are pursuing the opportunity to choose the best education path for their children," Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a statement. "School choice was an important part of the legislative education reform package enacted in 2015. I hope that all pending litigation challenging these critical reforms will soon be resolved for the sake of our students who deserve every opportunity to succeed.”

The ESA plan is the first in the nation to give money to parents of any income level for use as private school tuition or to enhance home school options. All previous school voucher or ESA programs have been narrowly targeted to low-income families or to those with specified disabilities.

"Supporters pitched the new law partly as an answer to Nevada's exploding school age population," the Deseret News reported last month. "According to the Center for Public Education, the Silver State's school age group grew 35 percent between 2000 and 2010, faster than any other state. The next nearest was Arizona at 24.6 percent, which, not coincidentally, is also a leader in education savings plans."

Email: eschulzke@deseretnews.com

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