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ACLU To Sue Over Educational Savings Accounts

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Nevada's new educational savings accounts have attracted a great deal of attention.

The accounts, which allow parents to take state per-pupil funding and apply it to private-school tuition, were established earlier this year.

Some parents are upset they have to keep their children in public schools for 100 days to qualify to the accounts.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada is upset at the whole program and is suing the state to disband the program.

Amy Rose, the legal director for the ACLU of Nevada, says the program is unconstitutional. 

"What we're really concerned about is the public money being used for private religious purposes," Rose said.

According to Rose, the Nevada Constitution forbids the use of public money for private, sectarian purposes. 

"If you would like to leave the public school, you certainly can," she explained. "You can go to any private school you wish and you can go to any private religious school you wish. You cannot go to a private school that's imparting a sectarian curriculum with tax payer dollars."

Victor Joecks is the executive vice president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank. 

The institute supported the bill that created the accounts and has helped parents interested in using them.

 "What the ACLU is saying is if you're rich, you have school choice," Joecks said.

Joecks believes stopping the accounts will hurt low-income families who can't afford private school tuition. 

He also fundamentally disagrees with the ACLU's argument that the money is public.

"It's not government money going to a school, it's government money going into a parent's account and the parent chooses how that money is spent," Joecks said.

He also pointed to a similar law in Arizona that was upheld by that state's supreme court.

Rose disagrees with the idea that the money belongs to parents and she explained that private schools, unlike public schools, are allowed to discriminate . 

"These schools that are getting public money can discriminate and say 'you are not the same religion as us, you can not come in,'" Rose said.

However, Joecks says its not just about religion for the ACLU. 

"If you look at the ACLU's lawsuit, it's not just about stopping the money to religious schools," he said. "They're looking to roll back the whole program."

Rose believes the government owes citizens a quality public education and taking money from public schools to give to private institutions hurts the public schools.

The ACLU will now be petitioning a judge to establish a preliminary injunction, stopping money from flowing into the accounts.

Amy Rose, legal director, American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada;  Victor Joecks, executive vice president, Nevada Policy Research Institute

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)