December 21, 2015
On January 6, 2016, Nevada public school parents will ask a state court to declare Nevada’s new voucher law unconstitutional and block the State from implementing it. Judge James Wilson will hear arguments from lawyers representing the parents and the State in Carson City, the state capital.
The parents filed suit in Lopez v. Schwartz in September, alleging that the voucher statute violates the Nevada Constitution, which prohibits taxpayer funds, provided by the State Legislature for the operation of the public schools, from being used for any other purpose. The parents claim the new law diverts funds earmarked for Nevada’s public schools to private schooling and other non-public education expenses, in direct conflict with this provision of the constitution.
In their complaint, the Lopez parents also assert that the voucher law violates the Nevada Constitution by lowering the amount of funding provided in the Nevada state budget for public education and by using public funds to pay for tuition at institutions that, unlike the public schools, are not required to serve all students or follow anti-discrimination laws and are not accountable for student performance.
The Lopez lawsuit is supported by Educate Nevada Now! (ENN), a campaign of the Las Vegas-based Rogers Foundation. The Foundation assembled a team of experienced Nevada and national attorneys to represent the parents to ensure State law protects and advances educational opportunities for all children. The Rogers Foundation supports the parents’ lawsuit because it addresses an issue of vital importance to all Nevada public school children and taxpayers — whether public school funding must be used to operate the public schools — which must be resolved by the Nevada courts.
“Nevada parents are eager to have their day in court,” said David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center and a member of the legal team representing the Lopez parents. “The Nevada Constitution is unequivocal about the use of public funds appropriated by the State Legislature for the public schools. These parents are determined to protect and defend their schools.”
The plaintiff parents are concerned that vouchers will take critically needed funding away from the public schools and thereby reduce the quality of the education their children receive. They know that less funding will mean fewer teachers and programs available to the 450,000 Nevada children attending public schools across the state, many of whom are English language learners or children with disabilities or other special needs.
“The parents are concerned not only about their own children’s education but the education of the hundreds of thousands of Nevada schoolchildren who all deserve the protection of the state constitution,” said Sylvia Lazos, Policy Director for ENN.”
Nevada’s voucher law is unique: it creates the most expansive voucher program in the nation, sets no household income limits, has no cap on the number of vouchers issued or the total funding dedicated to them, and allows public school funding to be used to pay for a wide range of private spending, including private and religious school tuition, transportation, and other expenses, including those related to home-based education.
“This voucher program would deplete essential funding from the public schools,” said Tamerlin Godley, litigation partner with Munger, Tolles & Olson, also representing the plaintiff parents. “And it would divert public funds to private schools that are not accountable for student outcomes and that can turn away students they choose not to accept, which the public schools cannot and will not do.”
After the Lopez parents filed their complaint and a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, the State responded by opposing the PI motion and filed a cross Motion to Dismiss the case. The motions have now been fully briefed. The hearing on January 6 at 1:30 p.m. in Carson City is the next step in the litigation, as the Court hears from the plaintiffs and the State on these motions and opposition to them. The parties expect Judge Wilson to rule soon after the hearing.
Education Law Center; Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin LLP based in Nevada; and Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles are the pro bono counsel representing the parents in their lawsuit.
The Attorney General is representing the State and defending State Treasurer Dan Schwartz.
Molly A. Hunter
Director, Education Justice
973-624-1815, x 19
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications