Big Setback for Vouchers in Nevada
Carson City, Nevada, June 5 - Backed by a strong grassroots campaign, Nevada lawmakers decisively rejected Senate Bill 506, Governor Brian Sandoval's proposal to spend $60 million in public funds to revive an "education savings account" (ESA) voucher program previously declared unconstitutional by the Nevada Supreme Court.
With the Legislature's biennium session set to end June 5, the defeat of the Governor's bill puts an end to proponents' three-year effort to bring private school vouchers to the Silver State.
The nation's most expansive ESA voucher law, Senate Bill 302, was enacted in the last biennium session in June 2015. The program never got off the ground after a group of public school parents challenged the law in court. The parents in Lopez v. Schwartz argued that the voucher law violated the ban in the State constitution against diverting public school funding to a non-public purpose. In September 2016, the Nevada Supreme Court agreed with the parents and issued an injunction permanently blocking the program.
The new voucher bill, SB 506, was introduced when the 2017 biennium session began in January. The bill was proponents' attempt at a work-around to the Court injunction by tapping monies from the state's general fund, not public school funds, to pay for the vouchers.
The bill was met with unified opposition by a pro-public school coalition of parents, teachers, taxpayers and advocacy groups. The coalition pressed several key points, including the need to allocate public dollars to Nevada's underfunded public schools, the compelling evidence showing vouchers don't improve outcomes for students, and concerns that voucher schools discriminate and are unaccountable for performance.
"The rejection of vouchers by the Nevada Legislature is a testament to an unprecedented grassroots campaign of parents, educators and taxpayers who stood up for public education over the last five months," said Sylvia Lazos, Policy Director of Educate Nevada Now (ENN). "This sends a strong bi-partisan message of support for the 460,000 students and thousands of teachers in Nevada's public schools. This, along with other key education bills that were passed, makes us hopeful about the future of education in Nevada."
"The voucher defeat in Nevada is a resounding repudiation of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos's privatization agenda," said David Sciarra, Education Law Center (ELC) Executive Director. "Parents and taxpayers want investment in their public schools, not vouchers paid for with taxpayer dollars. Nevada also shows that when parents, civil rights groups and taxpayers come together, they can succeed in keeping public funding in public schools."
ENN, founded in 2014 by The Rogers Foundation, is a non-partisan coalition of education stakeholders working to ensure a high quality public education for every Nevada child, especially those at-risk from poverty, English language learners and students with special needs.
ELC advocates for public school children across the nation, and is a founding partner of ENN. ELC also served on the pro bono legal team representing the parents in Lopez v. Schwartz.