Private School Vouchers: Still Wrong for Nevada

The pro-voucher lobby is at it again in Nevada. They are now trying to put an initiative on the November ballot that would establish one of the broadest private school voucher programs in the country. After a trial court judge blocked the effort in April, they appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.

The Public Funds Public Schools campaign, along with advocates for Nevada’s public schools, filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief urging the State Supreme Court to put an end to this latest attempt to siphon off Nevada tax dollars to pay for private and religious schools.

The proposed initiative would enact a law establishing an Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher program open to any student entering kindergarten or enrolled in public school the previous year. The group behind the proposal, Education Freedom PAC, also attempted to put a similar constitutional amendment on the ballot, but that effort was thrown out by the state’s highest court in June.

“Vouchers harm students, schools and communities in every state where they’re enacted,” said Jessica Levin, Deputy Litigation Director at Education Law Center and PFPS Director. “Nevada public schools are reeling from decades of severe underfunding. Diverting scarce tax dollars to private and religious schools is unconscionable.”

The PFPS amicus brief provides the Nevada Supreme Court with crucial information about the costs and dangers associated with voucher programs, particularly in a state like Nevada where public schools are consistently plagued with extreme teacher shortages, excessive class sizes, poor building conditions, and a lack of programs to support struggling students.

The brief argues the ballot initiative at issue violates the Nevada Constitution’s mandate that any proposed law requiring an appropriation or expenditure also include a revenue source. It points out that the proposed law fails to provide funding for the vouchers themselves and would create funding shortfalls in the public education system.

The brief also provides crucial context about the persistent underfunding of Nevada’s public schools and resulting resource deficits. Education Law Center’s 2021 Making the Grade report gave Nevada an “F” on public school funding level, funding effort, and funding distribution.

Several glaring omissions in the description of the proposed law are also highlighted in the brief. These include failing to explain the financial effect of vouchers, their negative impact on student achievement, how vouchers exacerbate school segregation, and the fact that they strip crucial legal protections from English learners and students with disabilities.

The PFPS brief urges the Nevada Supreme Court to affirm the trial court’s conclusion that the initiative is misleading and cannot be placed on the ballot.

This is not the first time pro-privatization groups have tried to bring vouchers to Nevada. In 2016, Education Law Center and other PFPS partners represented public school families in Schwartz v. Lopez, a challenge to a previous statute that would have diverted millions of public dollars to private schools. The Nevada Supreme Court declared that law unconstitutional, and the program was never implemented.

The amicus brief filed by PFPS in the current case, Education Freedom PAC v. Rogers, was co-signed by the ACLU of Nevada and the Washoe Education Association, a union in the state’s second largest school district. The signers were represented pro bono by the firms Ropes & Gray LLP and Kemp Jones LLP.

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