Education News

Lawsuit challenges constitutionality of Nevada’s “vouchers on steroids”

by Félix Pérez

Nevada’s universal school voucher program — widely hailed by school privatization proponents when it was signed into law in June — violates the state constitution because it diverts taxpayer money to private, religious schools, charges a lawsuit filed last month by three civil liberties organizations.

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“If allowed to proceed, Nevada’s Education Savings Accounts Program will unconstitutionally divert millions of dollars in public education funds to private schools — the majority of which are religious. . . While parents have a right to send their children to religious schools, the Nevada Constitution prohibits them from doing so at taxpayers’ expense,” states the legal challenge brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The suit was brought on behalf of five Nevada residents, including Adam Berger, a father of a student in a public school and a special education teacher.

The lawsuit argues that the funding scheme violates Article XI, Section 10, of the Nevada Constitution, which states that “no public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County, or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.” The lawsuit also claims that the program runs afoul of Article XI, Section 2, which requires the legislature to provide for a uniform system of common schools.

The Nevada State Education Association, which represents 24,000 education professionals, is concerned the voucher law, if implemented, will have devastating consequences for students, taking money from innovative public school programs. NSEA is consulting with its attorneys to determine a course of action.

Ruben Murillo, a special education teacher and president of the Nevada State Education Association, said:

What’s really outrageous about this program is that it threatens to siphon funds from programs we know will help students. It virtually guarantees poor students and students with special needs get left behind.

Ruben Murillo
Ruben Murillo

Sylvia Lazos, policy director of Educate Nevada Now, wrote, “ESAs are highly problematic because of impacts on an already debilitated public education system. If parents of the 20,000 children currently in private schools take advantage of ESAs, the result will be a decrease of at least $100 million to public school budgets. This will undermine the ability of public schools to operate effectively for all students and will wreak havoc on school district budgeting and planning.”

Lily Eskelsen García, a Utah elementary school teacher and president of the National Education Association, said of the voucher program when it was enacted: “I am terrified that there are more and more state legislators and state governors who have bought into this very dangerous idea that school is a commodity.”

Eskelsen García said the student choice touted by supporters of the Nevada law is illusory. Unlike public schools, private schools are not obligated to accept students with special needs or from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Noted Eskelsen García:

It’s not profitable for very good private schools to allow in children who are disabled, kids who don’t speak English, kids whose parents are struggling to put food on the table.

Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and GOP state legislators, who passed the law without a single Democratic vote, maintain that the voucher program does not violate the constitution because the money is provided to parents, not religious schools. The lawsuit argues that the private religious schools eligible to participate in the voucher program “operate with sectarian missions and goals and impart sectarian curricula. This is exactly what the Nevada Constitution forbids.” Additionally, many of these schools, argue the civil liberties organizations, “discriminate in employment and admissions on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity, among other grounds.”

Under the far-reaching “vouchers on steroids” program, parents of students enrolled in a public school for at least 100 days may transfer their children to participating private and religious schools. They are eligible to receive $5,100 to $5,700, depending on family income, to pay for tuition, textbooks, transportation, technology, online schooling, home schooling an related expenses. The state has already accepted 3,000 early applications for program funds.

Most states with voucher programs limit participation to students with disabilities or from low-income families. Nevada’s law, by contrast, is unprecedented because all of the state’s 450,000 K-12 public schoolchildren are eligible to take the money to whatever private school they choose. The law also does not limit how much public school funding may be siphoned for private and religious schools.

12 responses to “Lawsuit challenges constitutionality of Nevada’s “vouchers on steroids”

  1. Public schools are required to provide an appropriate education for all students no matter how bright or handicapped they may be. However, it must be done within an existing budget that is not adequate for the task. Given that the task is extremely difficult due to great variability of student’s abilities,parental support and lack of willingness of so many disenfranchised kids to make an effort to learn, it’s a tough job. Compounding things for additional funding are the politicians who feel threatened by organized teachers and spend millions convincing people that over paid teachers are the problem. If anyone spent time in schools today working with their son or daughter’s teacher, they would know how much some politicians lie. Private schools can leave all those problems behind, choosing only students who can preform at an acceptable level given a set level of instruction. Ok, they don’t choose initially. But when student need help beyond what the school provides, the best choice is the public school. Vouchers are less about helping students and more about ending public schools that sometimes cannot meet their task as set up by the state and to eliminate the perceived threat to some politicians. Plus, blaming the teachers feeds into the bias of some people and earns extra votes. Has any one ever thought of making the public school task more reasonable? Think about that the next time you support the idea of a voucher program. Really, is killing public education the answer? Does anyone believe that private for profit schools with teachers earning less will actually solve all of the problems public schools are dealing with?

  2. So Nevada is Prejudiced against Special Needs children and Poor Children!
    How much lower can governmental Officials Get——Vouchers for education in the US of A should be a crime not a daily event!
    WOW —Hey NV I will not be visiting your state ever again unless you change and get rid of this VOUCHER CHUMPNESS YOU PROMOTE WHILE ABUSING OTHER CHILDREN!

    1. Reply to Larry Neumann:
      The reason for the recent decimation of the USA’s once thriving middle class that fueled the largest consumer economy the world has ever seen, now slipping into the growing ranks of the poor are the result of 35 years of national policy bought and paid for by none other than, Moneyed Special Interest, run amok!
      Changes in national policy from marginal tax structures for the wealthy and corporations, to Free Trade Agreements that have incentivized the offshoring of USA family sustaining jobs to bolster corporate and Wall Street gains, to deregulation of the financial sector, thanks to The Gramm, Leach, Bliley Act (and the subsequent repeal of The Glass-Steagall Act), which resulted in the removal of the barrier between Wall Street investment banks and FDIC backed commercial bank holdings, to “Corporations are people, my friend” policy that favored moneyed interest and dark Super PAC $$$money$$$ used to purchase our elections (Citizens United vs. The FEC);, to Union busting efforts (especially in “Right to Work (for less) States) have turned this nation from a representative republic into a veritable Oligarchy.
      The downward pressure on USA workers’ wages and the consolidation of the USA’s unfathomable wealth to the top has been accomplished in secret meetings by teams of lawyers and business experts, out of public view, voted on in Congressional sessions in obedience to moneyed influence, and covered up with disingenuous, deceptive rhetoric to create a false narrative to confuse “we the people”; a kind of diversionary tactic full of side shows to keep us bamboozled, angry, divided and at each other’s throats, while $$$Moneyed Special Interest$$$ keeps on keepin’ on…

  3. Brian Sandoval is simply promoting his own Religion “Catholic”
    If you check out the majority of the republican politicians who want vouchers, they all share one common thread. They are Catholic and most of the private schools are catholic.

    1. Funny because the Senator who introduced the bill is a public school teacher, his kids go to Charter school and he has NO intention of removing them from their charter school.

  4. The same thing is happening in North Carolina. If these voucher programs are allowed to proceed, then I think pro-public education legislators in those states need to introduce bills that would require students receiving taxpayer-funded vouchers be held accountable to the state’s education standards. If they don’t meet the standards, they’d be disqualified from receiving the funds to attend the school of their choice. Also, the money used to educate those students who leave the public schools (per-pupil spending) should remain within the public schools’ budgets to benefit those remaining in the public system. When will the successful businesses in these states accept their civic responsibility and fund those who want a private education?

    1. You all obviously do not have a CLUE how the public schools have been DECIMATED by illegals, 100 different languages and parents who do not take any responsibility in parenting. How about you apply YOUR logic to the students ALREADY receiving taxpayer money be held accountable to the state’s education standards. If they don’t meet the standards, they’d be disqualified from receiving the funds. I.e. no more free lunch literally and figuratively.

  5. The current movement for the privatization of public education is just another avenue that would funnel all that $$$CAPITAL$$$ into the deep pockets of private, for profit Enterprises whose worth is tied to their Wall Street stock values and their “Incorporated” board of directors.
    Tell you what… If that is the direction we are headed in the USA, how about we privatize it ALL? Privatize our roads, bridges, water run-off, sewer and other infrastructure, transit, and National Defense? Privatize Science and medical research. Privatize Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other safety net programs for the poor. Privatize NASA, and Foreign Aid. Abolish tax subsidies for multinational, multi-$$$Billion$$$ corporations who don’t need it! And on, and on, and on, etc., etc.

  6. Privatizing schools is a profit-making gimmick that separates those students who can pass the ruling class ideologically geared tests and those who cant. The first group will become leaders and the second will become underpaid, non unionized workers or fodder for profit-making privatized jails and the army. You cant stop the ruling class from compartmentalizing, that is, assigning niches to some and not to others, and thus perpetuating the class system.

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