Las Vegas, December 5, 2016 – Attorneys representing public school parents in the Lopez v. Schwartz lawsuit notified Attorney General Adam Laxalt today that the actions of Treasurer Dan Schwartz to continue promoting Education Savings Account (ESA) vouchers violate a court order permanently blocking the ESA program.
A copy of the Lopez parents’ letter is attached to the release and posted here. Educate Nevada Now, powered by The Rogers Foundation, supported the parents’ effort to stop this controversial bill.
In September, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in the Lopez case that Senate Bill 302, the law authorizing ESA vouchers, violated the Nevada Constitution’s ban on using public school funding for any other purpose. The Justices unanimously agreed that the ESA law would take millions from public schools to subsidize private and religious education.
“Treasurer Schwartz, by actively encouraging families to apply for ESAs and processing applications, is ignoring the Lopez court order permanently blocking the entire ESA program. What’s worse, he is deliberately misleading those families by acting as though the program is still in effect,” said Lopez attorney Bradley Schrager, of the Wolf Rifkin law firm in Las Vegas. “There is no ESA program any longer, and Mr. Schwartz needs a refresher on the rule of law, it appears.”
“Our legal team has notified the Attorney General that Mr. Schwartz must obey the permanent injunction by stopping all activities to implement the now defunct ESA program. If he does not comply with the court injunction, we’re prepared to seek relief from the court, including asking for contempt sanctions,” said David G. Sciarra of Education Law Center and Lopez attorney.
In 2015, the Nevada Legislature passed Senate Bill 302 (SB302) creating ESA vouchers, but the program was never implemented. In January 2016, in response to the parents’ lawsuit, Judge James Wilson of the First Judicial District Court stopped the voucher program because there was a strong likelihood it violated the Nevada Constitution. The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed Judge Wilson by declaring the program unconstitutional.
On November 17, Judge Wilson signed a final order stating, “Senate Bill 302 violates Article 4, Section 19 and Article 11 Sections 2 and 6 of the Nevada Constitution and is permanently enjoined.”
“It’s time for Treasurer Schwartz to face the fact that ESA vouchers were declared unconstitutional because they would have drained tens of millions of dollars from Nevada’s public schools, with Clark County schools losing over $30 million in the first year alone,” said Sylvia Lazos, Policy Director for Educate Nevada Now (ENN) which, along with the Rogers Foundation, has supported the Lopez case. “By blocking this program, we’ve prevented further cuts to public school budgets, which would have increased class sizes and reduced essential programs for students, including English language learners and other students in need of additional supports.”
Treasurer Schwartz, by continuing to implement the ESA program, is also expending hundreds of thousands in public funds loaned to his office in 2015 for administrative purposes. The Treasurer promised to repay those funds from fees generated by ESA payments – which now won’t happen since the program has been blocked.
“Mr. Schwartz needs to stop wasting taxpayer dollars by administering a program that is no longer on the books. He also needs to account for funds his Office has expended to date and explain to taxpayers how he plans to pay back the amounts already spent,” noted Plaintiffs’ attorney Don Springmeyer of the Wolf Rifkin firm.
“Nevada is facing a $400 million budget deficit,” added Sylvia Lazos. “Surely we have much more pressing needs to fill with our taxpayer dollars than a giveaway for private schools. Our public schools are underfunded, and we need more teachers, more programs, and adequate class sizes for all Nevada children.”
The Lopez plaintiff parents are represented pro bono by Bradley Schrager, Don Springmeyer, and Justin Jones at Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin LLP Las Vegas; Tamerlin Godley and Samuel Boyd at Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles; and David Sciarra and Amanda Morgan at Education Law Center.
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