The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in Nevada on Thursday, seeking to undo what is currently the most far-reaching school choice law in the country.
Nevada’s program, passed and signed into law earlier this summer, creates what is essentially a universal school voucher program. Any family with a child currently in public schools is eligible to claim a voucher worth approximately $5,000 a year to pay for private school tuition, supplies or tutoring. The program is more expansive than those in other states, which typically limit vouchers to low-income families or children with special needs. Already, almost 3,000 families have applied to participate in the program, set to begin Jan,. 1. (RELATED: Nevada Enacts Country’s Biggest-Ever School Choice Program)
The ACLU’s Nevada branch says the voucher program is unconstitutional, though, because it will lead to state funds being given to religiously-affiliated private schools.
“The education savings account law passed this last legislative session tears down the wall separating church and state erected in Nevada’s constitution,” said Tod Story, ACLU of Nevada’s executive director. The group is hoping a judge will suspend the program until a ruling can be issued, which would likely halt it for at least a year.
At the core of the lawsuit is not only the First Amendment, but also Nevada’s constitution, which includes the clause “No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”
The lawsuit is no surprise. While the law has strong backing from Nevada’s Republican legislature and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, Democrats and unionized teachers have been extremely critical, arguing it simply diverts money away from public schools.
Conservatives and backers of school choice have been quick to rally to the law’s defense.
“It’s sickening that a group with the slogan of protecting individual rights and liberties is in fact doing the opposite and challenging a program that would give parents the freedom to exercise their right to ensure their child gets the best education possible,” said Kara Kerwin, president of the pro-voucher Center for Education Reform, in a statement sent to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Lindsey Burke, an education expert at the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, argued that the ACLU’s constitutional challenge is totally meritless.
“The ACLU’s lawsuit alleges that the [education savings account] ESA program ‘violates the Nevada Constitution’s prohibition against the use of public money for sectarian (religious) purposes.’ Yet, ESA funds go directly to parents, who can then choose from any education option that is right for their child,” Burke wrote in an article at The Daily Signal.
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