Another Lawsuit Threatens Nation’s Top School Choice Law

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Blake Neff Reporter
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Yet another lawsuit has been filed targeting Nevada’s ambitious new school choice law, arguing the law robs the poor while giving a big handout to wealthier families.

Last June, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signed Senate Bill 302, the country’s biggest ever school choice law. Under the law, Nevada parents with children in public schools have the right to pull their children out and instead make use of education savings accounts (ESAs), where they receive their personal share of public school funding (about $5,000) and use it to pay for private school, home tutoring, or other non-public education options. (RELATED: Nevada Enacts Country’s Biggest-Ever School Choice Program)

Nevada isn’t the first state to implement ESAs, but its program is the only one in the country to be available to all students, rather than just the disabled, the poor, or those in failing public schools.

The law has outraged teachers unions and many liberals, though, who say the law will simply gut public schools. One lawsuit was already filed two weeks ago by the Nevada branch of the ACLU, and now, a second lawsuit has been filed by a group of seven parents.

This new lawsuit uses a different approach than the ACLU’s. The first lawsuit focuses on the law’s alleged violation of the state’s Blaine Amendments, which prohibit public tax dollars from funding private schools. (RELATED: ACLU Aims To Destroy Nevada School Choice Law)

This lawsuit, on the other hand, argues that Nevada’s new law will harm the poor while aiding the wealthy.

“The ~$5,000 voucher subsidy is not enough to cover the full tuition at all but a handful of existing private schools in Nevada,” the lawsuit says. “Only those families with the means to make up the significant difference will be able to use the voucher subsidy. Diverting precious Nevada taxpayer revenues to subsidize private school education for families that can already afford it is not only inappropriate but is also an unconstitutional use of tax dollars. In addition, very few of Nevada’s private schools are in the urban core of Nevada’s two largest cities, accessible to students in those neighborhoods. The voucher statute will consign Nevada’s most vulnerable and at-risk children to public schools that will have even less funding.”
The median price of private school in Nevada is about $8,000, with about 25 percent having tuition of $5,700 or less (the amount of money available to low-income families).

The lawsuit also notes that parents already enrolled in private school may attempt to take advantage of the law by temporarily enrolling in public schools. If all of Nevada’s 20,000 private school students attempted this, the school could suddenly be on the hook for $100 million a year to educate those private school students, even before accounting for students actually leaving public schools.

Beyond this, the lawsuit says the new program will violate Nevada’s constitutional requirement to establish a “uniform” public school system, since private schools don’t have to use the same school standards, take the same standardized tests, or hire equally qualified teachers.

The lawsuit’s rhetoric goes sharply against many of the arguments commonly advanced in favor of school choice. Organizations like the Friedman Center for Educational Choice have strongly championed Nevada’s law, arguing it will provide much-needed competition what will encourage improvement among low-performing Nevada public schools.

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