Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Nevada Voucher Law Found Unconstitutional by Molly Hunter
Judge James Wilson of the First Judicial District Court of Nevada (Carson City) has ruled in Lopez v. Schwartz that the state's school voucher law (SB 302) enacted last summer by the Legislature violates two provisions of the Nevada Constitution. Judge Wilson issued a preliminary injunction to prevent the State from implementing the law.
The case challenging the voucher law was filed by parents of Nevada public school children from across the state. They argued that the program would divert scarce funding from public schools, triggering cuts to essential programs and services for their children and all other children attending Nevada's public schools.
The Court explained that the Nevada Constitution requires the Legislature to appropriate funds for the operation of the public schools, which "must only be used to fund the operation of the public schools." [Nevada Constitution, Article 11, Sections 6.1 and 6.2.] However, the Court continued, under the voucher law, if implemented, "some amount of general funds appropriated to fund ... the public schools will be diverted to fund" the vouchers for private school tuition and other uses.
Judge Wilson further found that the parents "have [proven] that SB 302 violates Article 11, Sections 6.1 and 6.2, and that irreparable harm will result if an injunction is not entered. Therefore an injunction will issue to enjoin Treasurer Schwartz," who is charged with implementing the law, from doing so.
“Not only the plaintiffs won today,” said Sylvia Lazos, Policy Director of Educate Nevada Now! (ENN), a campaign to strengthen Nevada public schools. “Judge Wilson’s ruling is a victory for all 460,000 public school children in Nevada, their parents, teachers, administrators and school board members. We are thrilled with the decision and look forward to continuing dialogue focused on improving our state’s education systems.”
"We're pleased that Judge Wilson found that the Legislature cannot take funding designated for the operation of the public schools and transfer that funding to private schools and other private education expenses," said David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. ELC is a partner in the ENN campaign, along with the Las Vegas-based Rogers Foundation.
The Court will next schedule a trial on the merits.
The pro bono counsel team representing the parents in their lawsuit includes Education Law Center, Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin LLP based in Nevada; and, Munger, Tolles & Olson in Los Angeles.
The Attorney General is representing the State of Nevada and defending State Treasurer Dan Schwartz.