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Parents In Limbo With ESA Legal Challenges

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Back in the fall, we did a couple of stories on the new Education Savings Account program. Enacted in the 2015 legislative session, the program funnels public school money to parents to be used to pay for private school tuition. 

The idea was to allow parents a choice on where the money allotted to them in per-pupil spending would go. 

That’s the intent, anyway. Two lawsuits – by the American Civil Liberties Union and Educate Nevada Now - have been filed to stop the law from going into effect.

The Educate Nevada Now suit says the law takes away funding from Nevada's struggling public schools. 

And in January, a Carson City judge ruled on that argument. He not only put the law on hold, but strongly suggested that Educate Nevada Now’s suit on behalf of parents, has merit.

District Judge James Wilson said, "Plaintiff parents have met their burden of clearly proving that there is no set of circumstances under which the statute would be valid …"

However, the state appealed that ruling sending the whole thing to the State Supreme Court.

Amy Rose, the legal director of the ACLU of Southern Nevada, told KNPR's State of Nevada the high court will look at the case, hear arguments from both sides and then make a decision. 

Rose believes it will come to the same conclusion that the lower court did that the law is unconstitutional.

As for its side of the argument, the ACLU sued because of two clauses in the Nevada State Constitution, one that states 'no public money can be used for religious purposes,' and another that says the state is responsible for 'uniform system of public schools.'

The Education Savings Accounts law allows parents to use per-pupil spending on private religious schools, which the ACLU says is a violation of the state constitution. 

They also argue the accounts fund another system of schools outside of the public school system.

Supporters of the law say it gives parents a choice and they argue the money is really the parents to begin with to do what they will. They also argue that introducing competition into the education system will improve it for everyone.

A group of parents that supports the law filed a pro-active lawsuit in December asking that the judge make a decision sooner.

An estimated 4,000 families have applied for the vouchers. Now, all of those families are in limbo until the lawsuits make their way through the legal system. 

Amy Rose, Legal Director of the ACLU of Southern Nevada

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)