District Judge James Wilson in Carson City earlier this month issued an injunction blocking the implementation of the legislatively approved education savings accounts (ESAs), which were to be launched next month.
In doing so, the judge said the plaintiffs “have carried their burden of proof that SB302 violates Article 11, Sections 6.1 and 6.2 (of the state Constitution) and that irreparable harm will result if an injunction is not entered.”
The judge ruled that the word “appropriate” means “to set apart for or assign to a particular purpose or use in exclusion of all others” and therefore using part of that appropriate for ESAs violates the state Constitution.
The chink in that argument is that the State Distributive School Account (DSA) is funded on a per pupil basis and if that pupil is no longer in a public school population is that funding still required to go to public schools?
The Legislature set statewide per pupil funding at just more than $5,710 per pupil in the DSA. The ESA bill dictated that most parents who pull their children from public school would be given 90 percent of that amount to fund education by whatever means they choose — private school, tutoring, homeschooling.
Per pupil funding for public schools is not diminished by the savings accounts.
But apparently the judge took the view that the DSA fund is a lump sum that may not be diminished.
And just how are parents of public school children harmed if their schools get 10 percent of the funding for pupils who are not enrolled in their public school district? Additionally, public school districts keep the local and federal funding. Seems more like a benefit than an irreparable harm.
Actually, for some counties there might be a huge windfall, depending on interpretation of the law, because the DSA differs for every county. For example, Esmeralda is guaranteed $24,331 per pupil; Lincoln, $10,534; White Pine, $7,799; Eureka, $9,633; Mineral, $8,980; Clark $5,512; but Lander gets only $4,374 — with some adjustments for local property tax collections. Since the ESA payout is based on 90 percent the statewide average per pupil of $5,710, does each county keep the difference?
State Treasurer Dan Schwartz, whose office is designated to handle ESAs and who is named as the defendant in the case, says more than 4,100 accounts have been requested.
“Thousands of students and their distressed parents may see their plans upended,” Schwartz was quoted as saying.
Because the law requires students to be enrolled in public school for 100 days in order to qualify for an ESA, some parents have pulled their children from private schools and enrolled them in public schools. No irreparable harm there?
This should end up before the state Supreme Court. The sooner the better. Attorney General Adam Laxalt this past week filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. That appeal should be expedited for the sake of all Nevada children and parents.
A version of this editorial appears this past week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.
Update: On Thursday, Laxalt asked the Supreme Court to expedite case so it could be resolved in a matter months. He noted that a new school semester is starting and the new school year starts in seven months.
“Some parents have already been approved to participate in the program and as a result withdrew a child from one school and placed him in another. For many families, their ability to educate their sons and daughters as they believe best hinges on the existence of a fully implemented ESA program,” the motion explains the urgency. “But in the wake of the District Court’s injunction, and the uncertainty and disruption it unleashed, those families now face the agonizing choice of whether or not to continue pursuing the educational options best suited to their children. Some parents even face the immediate prospect of having to withdraw a child freshly settled in a happy new classroom and return her to one that failed her, or, in some cases, caused her emotional or physical pain.”