Nevada’s School Choice Victory

 logoEditorial, WSJ

Unions lose their attempt to kill education savings accounts.

bn-qb164_2esa_m_20160929183658Children won a big victory in Nevada on Thursday as the state Supreme Court upheld the state’s revolutionary education savings accounts (ESAs), the nation’s first universal school choice program. Note to Donald Trump: This is worth celebrating.

ESAs allow parents who withdraw their kids from public schools to use state funds to pay for private school tuition, tutoring, curriculum and school supplies. Each account in Nevada is funded at 90% to 100% (more for low-income and disabled kids) of the average statewide per pupil expenditure. Parents can roll over funds from year to year, and there is no cap on the number of participants.

About 8,000 parents applied for accounts last year but were blocked from tapping the funds because of lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union and other friends of the teachers unions. Those groups argued that the ESAs violate the state constitution’s requirement that the legislature operate a “uniform system” of public schools and prohibition on using public funds for sectarian purposes.

A 4-2 majority rejected their arguments, ruling that ESAs do “not alter the existence or structure of the public school system” in part because the funds once placed in the accounts “belong to the parents and are not ‘public funds.’” The court added that “it is undisputed that the ESA program has a secular purpose,” and the state constitution “does not limit the Legislature’s discretion to encourage other methods of education.”

While the state won on the core issues, the court did hold that the legislature violated a constitutional mandate to appropriate funds for public schools “before any other appropriation is enacted.” That’s because the legislature diverted money from last year’s education appropriation bill to fund ESAs.

The legislature can remedy this by making a separate appropriation during a special session that Governor Brian Sandoval plans to convene this fall to debate funding a publicly owned football stadium in Las Vegas. If politicians can find time and money to lure an NFL franchise, they can do the same to give kids a choice of schools.

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