“It wasn’t totally surprising but terribly disappointing,” said Assemblyman Chris Edwards (R-AD19) of District Judge James Wilson’s ruling that placed an injunction on the implementation of Nevada’s new Education Savings Account (ESA) program. Wilson issued his opinion Monday, Jan. 12 for the program originally slated to begin this spring.
Edwards, a State Assembly Education Committee member, told the Mesquite Local News that “For this judge to decide that a $17.5 million program does irreparable harm to public schools that receive $2.4 billion each year is ludicrous. I don’t think the judge clearly understands that public schools receive more money by having the ESA program. Schools would be allowed to retain 10 percent of their monetary allotment from the state for every student accepted into the program.
The State Legislature and the Governor went further to help education systems in Nevada during our 2015 session than any other session before. We went so far as to fund over a billion dollars of additional new resources for education. The ESA program was a small part of what we were able to accomplish.”
Under the ESA guidelines established by the State Legislature during its last session in 2015, the State will place up to 90 percent of public funding per pupil into an ESA that’s controlled by parents. In dollar terms that’s $5,100 per student each school year paid quarterly. Disabled students will receive $5,700. Parents then decide where to enroll their children. The remaining 10 percent would flow to the public schools.
Edwards told a Town Hall meeting in Mesquite last September that “It’s just one more piece of the pie to solve our education problems. It can also help to serve as a safety valve to take some of the overcrowding population off the public schools.”
Shortly after the program was approved several lawsuits were filed against it. Even though Judge Wilson issued his injunction, the court battles aren’t over. State officials are expected to file an appeal with the Nevada Supreme Court.
“I’m confident the State will win in its appeal to the Supreme Court,” Edwards said. “Unfortunately, parents will be grossly and negatively affected by this judge’s ruling.”
Edwards went on to say that “As a member of the Assembly’s Education Committee I know this program was dedicated to helping the school children of Nevada. If it takes a special session of the Legislation to iron this out, I’m confident our members would happily set up a separate program if that’s what it takes.”
A second lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenges the constitutionality of using taxpayer funds for sectarian purposes. That lawsuit was not affected by this ruling.
Under the ESA program, parents could use the State’s money to pay for religiously-affiliated private schools hence drawing the ACLU’s ire.
When Edwards was challenged with that point last September he denied the ESA violates the State Constitution’s prohibition of using public money for religious purposes. “State money is not going to religious institutions. The State money is going to an Education Savings Account. The ESA is not controlled by the State; it is controlled by the parent. That’s a big distinction. Some may say the end result is the same. But there is a process through which it changes the legal aspects of it. The State is not giving the money directly to parochial schools, the parents are.”
In Tuesday Jan. 12’s interview with the MLN, Edwards again countered the ACLU’s lawsuit. “The State contracts with religious organizations like the Salvation Army and Catholic church charities all the time to help feed, clothe, and shelter the poor. But when it comes to education somehow that affiliation becomes off-limits. Something isn’t right in that argument.”
In a related note, Nevada State Treasurer Dan Schwartz also weighed in on the Judge’s ruling sending out a press release that said “We are obviously disappointed with Judge Wilson’s opinion preventing the State Treasurer from implementing the ESA program. Thousands of students and their distressed parents may see their plans upended. Our office is currently discussing options with the Attorney General, so that we may honor the Nevada Constitution’s command and the Legislature’s intention to improve our children’s education. We expect to update Nevada families as soon as more information becomes available.”