Judge tosses school voucher initiative

Judge tosses school voucher initiative
A school classroom. Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

by Hugh Jackson, Nevada Current

CARSON CITY — A measure to create a publicly funded private school voucher system in Nevada by amending the state constitution has been declared “legally deficient” by a district court judge.

Education Freedom for Nevada PAC, the initiative’s sponsors, “are playing … a shell game” for failing “to describe the enormous fiscal impact of this initiative on the budget of most, if not all of the school districts” in the state, wrote Judge Charles McGee.

EFN’s initiative petition “sidestepped” the issue of how the vouchers would be funded, neglecting to mention that “every dollar spent” on a voucher “reduces dollar by dollar, the funds available” for public schools, the judge wrote.

McGee also ruled the initiative constitutes an unfunded mandate by requiring state spending without providing revenue, and “impermissibly” commands the Legislature to enact a statute or set of statutes.

Erin Phillips, who is spearheading the Education Freedom for Nevada PAC, said Tuesday the group was analyzing the decision and considering an appeal.

EFN’s proposed constitutional amendment would require state lawmakers to create and maintain an education voucher program starting in the 2025-26 academic year. It leaves most of the details to the Legislature to set, except one major one: It requires the Legislature to fund the voucher program “in an amount comparable to the amount of funding that would otherwise be used to support the education of that child in the uniform system of common schools.”

In a release from Educate Nevada Now, a group affiliated with the Rogers Foundation which challenged EFN’s proposal in court, foundation CEO Rory Reid said “It is encouraging to see that the courts are not going to allow this shadowy group to deceive the public into funding a scheme without knowing the extreme damage the proposal would have on our community.”

“We should not pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a scheme that gives handouts to the wealthy already in private school, hurts our most vulnerable students, and permits rampant discrimination and lack of accountability,” added Rogers Foundation chair Bev Rogers. 

Educate Nevada Now successfully challenged the constitutionality of the funding mechanism in a voucher bill passed by the Legislature in 2015, a legal victory that effectively killed the program.

In addition to the constitutional amendment, the Education Freedom for Nevada PAC is also sponsoring a statutory initiative which revives the mechanism of the unfunded 2015 voucher program. McGee did not rule on the second initiative, but while explaining why the two warranted separate rulings, described it as “an elaborate scheme for administering a major fund .. with many different timelines for the signature gathering, and other provisions which touch and concern different [italics in the original] sections” of the state constitution. 

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.