Newspaper column: ACLU lawsuit is an attack on parental choice for educating their children

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 sectarian purposes.

Few stories bothered 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 court said. “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.”

Yet Tod Story, executive director for the ACLU of Nevada, has been quoted 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 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 still 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.”

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. … 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.”

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 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 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.

ACLU announced suit over education savings account law. (R-J photo)

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

 

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6 comments on “Newspaper column: ACLU lawsuit is an attack on parental choice for educating their children

  1. Bruce Feher says:

    We need to keep in mind that the money originally came from the pockets of private sector taxpayers and that the government is only the middle man, after they take their cut of course.

  2. Patrick says:

    Once in the hands of the parents is it any longer public money?

    And I guess, once welfare checks are in the hands of the recipients it’s no longer public money either? Maybe someone could explain then why it is that we insist on so many restrictions on how that “private money” is used by the recipients?

  3. Steve says:

    There are restrictions on how the ESA money is used too.

  4. Patrick says:

    Then I guess the answer to Thomas question is “yes”.

  5. Steve says:

    To get the money there are things that are required from the parents. Some of those are how the money is to be spent.
    This is trackable because the ESA money id made available through the EBT system though I believe there is no cash availability like there is in the EBT system.
    The money is no longer public in that it cannot be taken back, it can only be stopped by taking the people off the system for any one of numerous reasons.

  6. […] early in 2016, it is vital that the courts make short work of the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking to block the new […]

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