The Nevada Supreme Court has struck down the state’s school choice law, ruling that the method used to pay for the education savings account program was unconstitutional.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that justices said lawmakers cannot divert money authorized specifically for public schools to private educational programs such as tuition at parochial schools.
The court's 33-page opinion, written by Justice James Hardesty, concluded that the 2015 law establishing the choice program violated the state constitution because it diverted taxpayer money meant exclusively for public education into education savings accounts. Under the law, parents would be able to use taxpayer funds to pay for private school tuition and other educational services.
The ruling applies only to Nevada, but may have repercussions in other states. According to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, at least 18 states may advance legislation this year similar to the so-called “Nevada model.”
School choice proponents asserted after the ruling that the flaws in the law that the Supreme Court identified could be easily remedied. They argued that the justices upheld the constitutionality of education savings accounts as a concept, but struck down the legislation only on the technicality of its funding mechanism.
The court case involved two separate constitutional challenges to Senate Bill 302, which created the education savings account program. The law allowed parents to create education savings accounts and use state per-pupil funding to send their children to private school or pay for other education programs.
Supporters of the program contend that education savings accounts would make schools more competitive and give parents more education options.
Opponents counter that school choice program would drain resources—up to $40 million by some estimates— away from an underfunded K-12 system and pay for discriminatory practices at religiously affiliated private schools.
Annual per-pupil funding in Nevada averaged $5,100. Since the law was passed, nearly 8,000 education savings accounts had been established.