Some 16 thousand events have been planned across the country around School Choice Week, including a rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, that celebrates the state’s sweeping new education savings account program, even as it faces serious legal challenges.
District Judge James Wilson, in a 16-page ruling from his bench in Carson City, said the state constitution requires “the legislature to set apart or assign money to be used to fund the operation of the public schools, to the exclusion of all other purposes.”
But a new law, passed as Senate Bill 302, allows families to establish education savings accounts to divert $5,000 per pupil to fund private school tuition. This diversion of general funds appropriated for public schools probably violates sections of the constitution, Judge Wilson ruled on January 11.
“Plaintiff parents have met their burden of clearly proving that there is no set of circumstances under which the statute would be valid,” Judge Wilson wrote, in granting an injunction to put the brakes on the new law, implying a belief that the people who oppose SB 302 could be reasonably expected to prevail at trial.
“We are thrilled with the ruling,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal quoted Tammy Godley, an attorney who argued on behalf of six parents challenging the program, as saying. “We think it is so important to the children of Nevada that we maintain our public schools and fund them appropriately. SB 302 was a real threat to that.”
After the ruling, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt filed a motion in an appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, asking the court to rush the decision process, KVVU-TV (Fox affiliate) reports.
The law, signed by Gov Brian Sandoval, was supposed to start diverting funds in February, and several families, he claims, had already enrolled their children in private schools, anticipating that they would have the money from the education savings accounts. Now that an injunction has been issued, those families face the agonizing decision of possibly having to remove their children from their private schools.
The program’s diversion of public dollars away from schools harms Nevada’s public schools, which are already strapped for cash, and causes irreparable harm to the students in the Silver State. The program doesn’t require private schools to be held accountable for the funds they receive from Nevada’s taxpayers.
Furthermore, the court can’t insert itself into what has become a nationwide effort by special interest groups to undermine public education. These groups, backed by moneyed interests, divert scarce public tax dollars to private entities, such as charter networks, corporations that run private schools, and religious organizations.
Rallies around School Choice Week
Other rallies are taking place in Columbia, South Carolina; Montgomery, Alabama; and Lincoln, Nebraska. Thirty-two governors, including Maryland Gov Larry Hogan, Michigan Gov Rick Snyder, and Illinois Gov Bruce Rauner, have also declared it School Choice Week in their states.
In Washington state, school choice advocates are picking up steam, despite a ruling from the state Supreme Court that struck down the state’s charter school law, which was seen as diverting funds away from the public schools, much as the Nevada education savings account program is doing. The legislature drew up a fix that keeps the charter schools open with funding from the state lottery. The House is controlled by Democrats, though, and passage isn’t a sure thing.
In Arizona, proposed legislation in the House would remove limits on the state’s school voucher program, allowing every public school student to use state cash to attend a private school, the Arizona Daily Star reports.
The rallies in Las Vegas are expected to be similar to those held last year, as reported here in the Review-Journal. The only difference could be the peril facing the state’s voucher law.