Last month, Nevada rolled out its Education Savings Account program to much hoopla. Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit attempting to overturn the ESAs.
ESAs offer public school students $5,000 to put toward alternative forms of schooling—home, online or private. It’s that last category that is causing the problem, as the majority of Nevada’s private schools are religiously affiliated and the state Constitution specifically prohibits the use of government funds for sectarian purposes.
“We had some concerns about whether it was Constitutional, and a lot of those concerns were raised by the legislators themselves,” says Tod Story, executive director of the Nevada ACLU. The plaintiffs in the suit include several citizens whom, according to the suit, object to “the use of [their] taxes to fund private and religious schools.” One of them is Ruby Duncan, a longtime civil rights activist who has a CCSD school named after her.
Story cites an 1882 decision by the Nevada Supreme Court as the basis of the ACLU’s case. He quotes the judgment: “‘It does not matter that Catholic parents want their children taught the Catholic doctrine or that Protestant parents want their children to be instructed in Protestantism, the Constitution prohibits the use of any funds for special purposes whether these parents wish it or not.’” He adds, “We don’t think there’s any reason for them to see this any differently than the Supreme Court did then.”
The ESAs do not begin until January, and the ACLU is seeking an injunction to put the ESA program on hold until a judgment is reached. The Nevada State Treasurer’s office administers the program and, in a statement, Treasurer Dan Schwartz said, “We believe that SB302 is clearly aimed at aiding and improving our children’s education, whether it be in public or private schools, secular or nonsectarian institutions. The bill’s intent is to give parents the choice on how and where their children should be educated.”