On September 9, 2015, a group of parents whose children attend Nevada public schools filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s new ESA voucher law. The lawsuit, Lopez v. Schwartz, has generated media attention and interest from parents, educators and taxpayers. ENN supports the parents’ efforts and is committed to keeping the community informed about developments in the case and efforts to ensure the voucher program is never implemented.
UPDATE: The parents have won their legal challenge, and implementation of the voucher program has been stopped! The Nevada Supreme Court agreed with the main claim in the Lopez v. Schwartz lawsuit, finding that the funding structure of the ESA program was unconstitutional for two reasons:
- The voucher bill was not an appropriation; it simply funneled money out of the public school funding appropriation bill (SB 515), and
- The public school appropriation bill is constitutionally protected. Money for public education must be set aside first, before all other State expenditures, and cannot be diverted to other programs, such as the voucher program.
The ESA voucher law, SB 302, would have diverted a portion of the money appropriated for the public schools to be used for something other than public education. This was the same reason the District Court judge granted the injunction in January.
This Supreme Court ruling is not based on a technicality that can be remedied with a quick fix. The ESA program would need to be changed in fundamental ways before implementation could take place:
- The program could no longer be “universal,” that is, accepting all applicants without a spending ceiling, since funds to support vouchers cannot be taken from the public school appropriation. The program would have to draw on a finite appropriation, established by the Legislature, and that would mean that lawmakers would have to seriously consider limiting voucher eligibility to low-income students or special education students.
- Given the current pool of voucher applicants, the Legislature would have to find approximately $40 million a year to pay for vouchers. The funding would have to come either from cutting other state programs or raising taxes.
In summary, the Supreme Court made sure that funds allocated for the public schools continue to be used for that purpose alone, in accordance with the law. In this way, the Court protected the hundreds of thousands of Nevada public school children, their schools and their communities.