By Keith Diggs
The legal gunslingers of IJ are getting ready for a school choice showdown in the Wild West. The last issue of Liberty & Law briefly mentioned that Nevada had enacted the nation’s first nearly universal educational savings account program, also known as an “ESA.” And now IJ will defend the program in court against two lawsuits filed since late August.
Under the new program, which goes into effect in 2016, parents with a child in public school can use their tax dollars to choose a combination of educational goods and services that best fits the needs of their children. For example, ESA funds can be spent on private school tuition, textbooks, tutors, distance learning and even classes at Nevada community colleges. ESAs will open the door for the innovation that modern technology has brought to other sectors like transportation (think Uber) and retail (think Amazon).
IJ represents five families throughout Nevada, including Aimee and Heath Hairr, who have five adopted children. Aurora Espinoza, a single mom who works full time to make ends meet, has two daughters in some of the worst public schools in the state. Lara Allen’s four children, all of whom are gifted or have special needs, need more than what the public schools can offer. And two of Liz Robbins’ seven children have a severe tissue disorder that requires frequent tests and invasive surgeries that keep them from regularly attending public school.
ESAs will give IJ’s clients the educational choice they need and deserve. For the most part, the public schools have treated these families indifferently or worse. Some of their kids have been bullied, assaulted, neglected or unchallenged. They deserve the opportunity the ESA program will give them.
Unfortunately, both the ACLU and the Education Law Center (ELC) have filed suit to stop the ESA program. The ACLU says the ESA program violates the Nevada Constitution’s prohibition against using public funds “for sectarian purposes.” The ELC claims the government cannot constitutionally provide educational options outside of the public schools. Both arguments fall flat. As IJ has successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and several state Supreme Courts, properly constructed educational choice programs do not unconstitutionally fund religion. All the government is doing is handing the reins over to parents who decide how to use their education dollars. Furthermore, nothing in the Nevada Constitution says it is unconstitutional for the government to provide educational choice outside of the public schools.
That is why IJ has teamed up with Nevada families to intervene in these lawsuits and defend the ESA program. IJ will fight for as long as it takes to protect one of the best education reforms in the country.
Keith Diggs is an IJ attorney.