ACLU suit over education savings accounts is a challenge to parental rights

Many of the news stories about the ACLU suing to block implementation of Nevada’s education savings accounts (ESAs), approved by this past Legislature as Senate Bill 302, mention that such accounts were declared unconstitutional in Colorado recently. Like Nevada, Colorado’s state constitution includes a Blaine Amendment prohibiting the use of tax money for secular purposes.

Few bother to mention that Arizona also has a Blaine Amendment in its constitution, but the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld Arizona’s ESAs two years ago.

That court found that ESAs were neutral toward religion by leaving spending decisions to parents, not the state:

The ESA does not result in an appropriation of public money to encourage the preference of one religion over another, or religion per se over no religion. Any aid to religious schools would be a result of the genuine and independent private choices of the parents. The parents are given numerous ways in which they can educate their children suited to the needs of each child with no preference given to religious or nonreligious schools or programs. … The ESA is a system of private choice that does not have the effect of advancing religion. Where ESA funds are spent depends solely upon how parents choose to educate their children.  Eligible school children may choose to remain in public school, attend a religious school, or a nonreligious private school.

Yet the morning Las Vegas newspaper quotes Tod Story, executive director for the ACLU of Nevada, as saying, “The education savings account law passed this last legislative session tears down the wall separating church and state erected in Nevada’s constitution.”

The Nevada Constitution says: “No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or University that may be established under this Constitution.” It also says, “No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”

The ACLU lawsuit argues: “The Program establishes a system whereby, instead of enrolling their children in public schools, parents may obtain and use public money to pay for enrollment in private religious institutions. This is exactly what the Nevada Constitution forbids.”

Once it is in the hands of the parents, is it public money?

After the lawsuit was announced, the Institute for Justice (IJ), which advised Nevada lawmakers drafting the ESA law, issued a statement. Senior Attorney Tim Keller said:

We worked closely with the state legislature throughout the drafting process to ensure the program’s constitutionality, and we fully intend to defend it against this baseless and cynical lawsuit. Nevada’s Education Savings Account (ESA) Program was enacted to help parents and children whose needs are not being met in their current public schools, and we will work with them to intervene in this lawsuit and defeat it.

The Supreme Court of the United States, as well as numerous state supreme courts, have already held that educational choice programs, like Nevada’s ESA Program, are constitutional. We expect the same from Nevada courts.

IJ helped Arizona defend its ESA program. Keller noted that, like Arizona’s ESA program, “Nevada’s ESA program does not set aside a single dollar for religious purposes, but instead gives parents a genuine choice as to how to spend the money deposited in their child’s education savings account.”

Patricia Levesque, CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, said of the ACLU suit, “It is ironic that the ACLU pledges itself to ‘defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person. … Yet today the ACLU opposes giving every parent in Nevada the right to decide where his or her child goes to school. There is no more fundamental right in this country than trying to create a better life for your child.”

The morning paper also noted that a group calling itself Educate Nevada Now also plans a suit to try to strike the ESA law, but will argue that the law runs counter to a constitutional requirement that the state “sufficiently” fund public schools, a rather nebulous concept.

The claim that the law will strip desperately needed funding from already starving local school budgets is blatantly false. It will relieve those schools of overcrowding and will only cost them a portion of the state’s Distributive School Account. Each school would still get 10 percent of state funding for most students who leave, as well as local and federal funds for students zoned in that school but who do not attend. Schools would actually get more funding per pupil for those who remain in public schools and will not have to build as many new schools.

The law allows the state Treasurer to set up savings accounts for parents who choose to take their children out of public schools. For most the annual account will be equal to 90 percent of the public school per-pupil state funding allotment or a little more than $5,000. Parents earning less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level would get 100 percent of state funding.

The money can be spent on tuition at private schools — even church-operated schools, according to backers — textbooks, transportation, tutoring, testing, curriculum, homeschooling and supplemental materials.

The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, but a qualifying child must have “attended a public school for 100 consecutive school days to enter into an agreement …”

Though opponents of the law say there will be no accountability for the quality of education of those receiving ESAs, the law requires students with ESAs to take standardized examinations in math and English and make the results available to the state Department of Education, which must publish aggregate data on the results.

Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt is tasked with defending the Nevada law from such court challenge. His office has a general policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

ACLU announces lawsuit against education savings account law. (The R-J is now so cheap the photo credit and the story byline are the same.)





26 comments on “ACLU suit over education savings accounts is a challenge to parental rights

  1. nyp says:

    I think it is just terrific that tax money will be diverted from public schools to help support madrassa schools.
    We need our kids to be better educated in Sharia law.

  2. Steve says:

    If nyp wrote the laws…….

  3. nyp says:

    No need for me to write the law. It is already guaranteed by your new legislation.

  4. Steve says:

    No citation, not even the slightest indication of the religious population in this state.

    With the exception of your predictable inanities, nothing is guaranteed.

  5. nyp says:

    Any religious school, including madrassas, can be the beneficiary of tax dollars diverted from your kids’ public schools. You obviously can’t discriminate among different types of schools or faiths.

    I am thinking of forming the “Louis Farrakhan Elementary School”.It will be great to see your tax dollars at work!

  6. Patrick says:

    Clearly unconstitutional and the legislators that voted for the law, knew it, or should have known it, and this is nothing but the worst sort of wasted taxpayer dollars.

  7. Barbara says:

    Taxpayers (parents) should be able to spend their money on the education they think is best for their kid. Sounds like the liberals are afraid of competition. I see the ESAs as a win for everyone including the public school system.

  8. Patrick says:

    Parents can spend all of their own money that they desire to educate their children. But the Constitution of the state, prohibits them from spending any of my money to the extent that that money goes to any religious school.

    I see the ESA as a lose-lose proposition for the entire state.

  9. nyp says:

    Just wait until the Church of Satin decides to establish a taxpayer-supported school in Nevada.

  10. Steve says:

    Since liberals believe all money belongs to them to be doled out only as they see fit, no one has any “of their own” to use in any way other than ways liberals decree.

    Nevada’s ESA program is constitutional.

  11. Patrick says:

    Since conservatives believe that no government ought to exist, asserting that parents should be able to spend money that the government received on the basis of taxation which was then transferred to them is hypocritical.

    And Nevada’s ESA program is unconstitutional.

  12. Steve says:

    Conservatives are not anarchists, Patrick.

    Liberals love to mislabel anything they cannot, intelligently, discuss.

  13. Patrick says:

    Conservatives are hypocrites, and love to create straw men and put words in other peoples mouths.

  14. Steve says:

    Can’t handle the message, attack the messenger.

    Concession is noted.

  15. Patrick says:

    Conservatives are also well known for prematurely declaring victory.

    “Mission Accomplished”

  16. Steve says:

    Patrick is well known for lacking…..

  17. Patrick says:

    Conservatives are well known to spout nonsense in one post like:

    “Can’t handle the message, attack the messenger.”

    Then, barely one post later demonstrate their hypocrisy by saying:

    “Patrick is well known for lacking…..”

    Conservatives are nothing if not consistently absurd.

  18. Steve says:

    Patrick spouts continual nonsense like “Since conservatives believe that no government ought to exist, “….

  19. Patrick says:

    Conservatives begin ridiculous arguments by stating nonsense like

    “Since liberals believe all money belongs to them to be doled out only as they see fit, no one has any “of their own” to use in any way other than ways liberals decree.”

    Typically, this nonsense will then be followed up by more hypocritical nonsense like:

    “Liberals love to mislabel anything they cannot, intelligently, discuss.”

    Never understanding (since conservatives have real problems understanding anything not able to fit on a number sticker) that they started the whole thing by being just plain dumb. As conservatives are.

  20. Steve says:

    ……”they started the whole thing by being just plain dumb. As conservatives are.”

    Attack! Attack!
    After all,
    it IS ALL you have.

    Concession, again, noted.

  21. Note the phrase classically liberal, which general translates to libertarian:

  22. Patrick says:

    Conservatives are well known for saying dumb things like “Since liberals believe all money belongs to them to be doled out only as they see fit, no one has any “of their own” to use in any way other than ways liberals decree.”

    Then, hypocritically, saying, in response to someone pointing out their hypocritical attacks:

    “Attack! Attack!
    After all,
    it IS ALL you have.”

    And, as conservatives are also well known for doing, prematurely declaring victory:

    “Missiona Accomplished”

  23. Steve says:

    Doubling down on the inanity proves it….thanks.

  24. Rincon says:

    Your link is interesting Thomas. There was one major omission in the analysis however. Poor people (e.g., welfare recipients) tend to be more liberal, thus dragging the average down, although the same could be said about rural bumpkins, if such a thing exists. We all know of course, that the moderates are the most intelligent of all!

  25. […] of the news stories in August about the ACLU suing to block implementation of Nevada’s education savings accounts (ESAs) mentioned that such […]

  26. […] the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit claiming the law allows parents to use tax money to pay tuition at church-based schools, saying […]

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