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Nevada Supreme Court rules against ballot initiative to create a voucher-style education program

Jackie Valley
Jackie Valley
Education
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The front of the Nevada Supreme Court Building

The Nevada Supreme Court has affirmed a lower-court ruling that a statutory ballot initiative that aimed to create a voucher-style education program cannot move forward.

The order, signed by all justices and filed on Monday, appears to be the final chapter in this legal battle that started in late January. That’s when a political action committee called Education Freedom for Nevada filed both a statutory and a constitutional initiative with the secretary of state’s office. 

The pair of initiatives sought to create “education freedom accounts” that would allow parents to access state funds to pay for educational environments or services outside the public school system.

The effort quickly ran into pushback from opponents who viewed it as another scheme to draw taxpayer money away from public schools. Beverly Rogers and Rory Reid of the arts and education-oriented Rogers Foundation filed lawsuits within a matter of weeks in a bid to halt the initiatives.

By April, a senior judge in Carson City had ruled against the initiatives, saying they could create massive unfunded mandates. But Education Freedom for Nevada appealed the lower court’s decision.

The Nevada Supreme Court previously ruled on the constitutional initiative and agreed with the lower court’s decision. This order addressing the statutory initiative comes to the same conclusion.

“The petition creates a program for education freedom accounts that will require appropriations and expenditures for the program to exist,” the order of affirmance states. “Yet, the petition does not include any funding provisions. The initiative process does not permit petition proponents to propose statutes that may never take effect because they rely on the Legislature to enact legislation effectuating them.”

Education advocates hailed the Nevada Supreme Court’s ruling as another defeat to so-called education savings accounts. In 2015, the Legislature passed and then-Gov. Brian Sandoval signed into law an education savings account program, which never received funding after a legal challenge. In that case, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled the premise was constitutional but not the funding mechanism.

“This is the nail in the coffin for these ballot initiative efforts,” Rogers said in a statement Monday. “We know this and other out-of-state funded right-wing groups won’t stop trying to siphon tax dollars away from neighborhood public schools for private schools. Public schools are worth protecting because they serve ALL students and are accountable to the people.”

Erin Phillips, co-founder and president of the advocacy organization Power2Parent, serves as chairwoman of the Education Freedom for Nevada PAC. In a statement released Monday evening, Phillips said the courts only seem interested in protecting the “status quo policy” for education.

“We are disappointed in the court's ruling today and that the incoherent decisions written by Judge McGeege were upheld by these justices.” Phillips wrote. “Turning away parents once again strikes as being another muddled decision that disenfranchises families from having the power to direct their child's education.”

This story was updated at 7:02 p.m. on Sept. 12, 2022, to include a response from Erin Phillips.

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