Judge throws out lawsuit against state's ESA program

LAS VEGAS - A Las Vegas judge dealt a blow to opponents of Nevada's School Choice bill.  District Court Judge Eric Johnson recently dismissed a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that was seeking to declare the law unconstitutional.

The judges decision is listed in 45 pages of documents, in which Judge Johnson found the school choice law constitutional because it doesn't violate the religious funding law.  But the ACLU, who filed the lawsuit, disagrees with this assessment and the decision.

"Judge Johnson, I think gave a very thorough decision," said Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-Nevada.

The governor of Nevada is pleased with the judge's decision regarding the Education Savings Account Program.

So what was the issue?

The issue at hand was whether or not public funds could be allocated toward funding private religious, educational institutions.

"This is unconstitutional; this transfer of cash from the taxpayer to private, religious use," said Tod Story, Executive Director of the ACLU of Nevada.

Story says the judge's decision came as a surprise.

"How a decision can be made that says 'let's take taxpayer dollars and funnel it to private education,' which frequently is going to be a religious education, is to us very clearly a violation of that article of the Constitution," Story said.

"The state is not giving any money directly to schools, the state has no control, really, over what schools a parent may or may not choose," according to Michael Schaus of the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

The NPRI supports the school choice law.  The program essentially allows parents to apply to receive the money that would be spent on their child, which is about $5,000 per year, at a private school, or on other tuition or tutoring.

Supporters of ESA says it provides more options to more families.

"Because it's in the parents' hands," Schaus said.  "It's no violation whatsoever of the Blaine amendment."

However, once again, the ACLU disagrees, saying parents always had that choice.  The ACLU says this is about something else.

"From our perspective, that's what this program is all about," said Story.  "It is dismantling public education as we know it."

Despite the judges' ruling, the program is still on hold because another lawsuit is pending in the state supreme court. 

As for the families of roughly 5,000 children who have signed up for the ESA program -- well, they'll have wait on the outcome of the lawsuit.

TheACLU could appeal the decision in its case to the state supreme court.


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