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The Supreme Court’s education ruling is good for all Nevadans

Valeria Gurr
Valeria Gurr
Shaka Mitchell
Shaka Mitchell
Opinion
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This spring, the U.S. Supreme Court has done its level best to stay in the headlines, but one pivotal case has yet to receive its due. In the case of Carson v. Makin, the court found in favor of parents who wanted to use public funds to send their children to private, religious schools. While this case involved parties in the state of Maine, it could have major, positive effects for families in Nevada too.

Parents who live in rural Maine and lack a local, public high school, could already use education funds apportioned by the government to put their kids in a private school. Unfortunately, for some families, they could not choose schools that provide religious instruction (though they could select a school that has a religious mission — the implication being that some schools are too religious)

The high court determined that if a state decides to allow education funds to be used for private school tuition, it may not discriminate against schools simply because they are religious. Parents in Maine may now choose schools according to their conscience, not the whim of a bureaucrat at the state Department of Education.

So, what does this mean for children in Nevada?

Some may erroneously believe the ruling will create programs that are de facto religious, causing some parents to reject the programs altogether. This is an argument that misses the point.

The high court’s ruling should be viewed as a possible pathway to help Nevada lawmakers fulfill their constitutional obligation. Article IX, Section 1 of the Nevada Constitution expresses the intent for the government's involvement in the educational system. It reads:

“A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.”

The Constitution created a base-level of government-run schools. But never has that base-level served all Nevada children well. Who among us thinks the schools have promoted “intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement” effectively? 

All to say, parents need more options, whether secular or sectarian, because the “preservation of the rights and liberties of the people” is too important of a goal to be left to a single system.

Parents choose private schools with a religious component for several reasons and not all might be the ones you think. Parents who choose these schools may, for example, want a smaller classroom setting, more individualized attention, or greater safety for their children; others may want the school to match their values.

Aracely De La Cruz, a single mother of three children who was awarded three scholarships to send her children to Calvary Chapel Christian School, said one of her children had encountered difficulties at his assigned public school — because of a learning disability, her son didn’t receive all the help he needed and also was bullied — which led her to seek an alternative. At Calvary Chapel, her son is now motivated, challenged academically, and performing better.

While Carson doesn’t authorize religious education or create schools automatically, it does give us an opportunity to rectify the prohibition of dollars following scholars to the school of their choice. If families have a school choice program in their state, they can use their funding for a school of their choice. 

However, in Nevada, there exists only one school choice program. This small program only serves about half of one percent of the entire population of students in Nevada. Hopefully soon, leaders will follow the lead of other states like Arizona, which just passed the most expansive school choice program in the country in order to allow all parents and students freedom of education. 

Rather than counting to see how much religion in a school is “too much,” we should determine what number of well-educated students and satisfied parents is enough. Right now the answer is “too few.”

Valeria Gurr serves as director of external affairs relations for the American Federation for Children. She was formerly the program manager for the Nevada Institute for Children’s Research and Policy.

Shaka Mitchell, J.D., serves as director of State Strategy and Advocacy for the American Federation for Children where he helps oversee its state work and leads efforts to streamline AFC’s policy, advocacy, political, and grassroots work, in ways that maximize team effectiveness.

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