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Constitutional difficulty might be coming for Nevada private school vouchers


AP Photo/Nevada Appeal, Brad Coman

Students Isabel Onisile, 11, left, and Octavia McKindra, 11, attend a rally at the Sierra Nevada Academy Charter School at the National School Choice Week Capitol celebration in Carson City, on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015.

Friday, July 3, 2015|2 a.m.

Click to enlarge photo

Senator Scott Hammond of the 77th (2013) Nevada Senatorial District.

This week the Colorado Supreme Court struck down a policy enabling state education funds to be funneled into independent schools on the grounds that providing public cash to spiritual organizations violated the state’s constitution.

Right here in Nevada, a new law will give any parent who draws their child out of public school around $5,000 in taxpayer money to spend on whatever education expenses they choose, consisting of religious education. It’s the country’s most sweeping voucher program ever enacted.

Which asks the question: Will the exact same thing that happened in Colorado occur in Nevada?

Right here’s what Nevada’s Constitution says: “No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be made use of for sectarian function.”

Opponents of the new law state the language is relatively clear: The state can’t divert taxpayer money to religious schools.

“Anytime there are public funds going to functions that are sectarian in nature, you have to think about whether or not that’s an infraction of the First Modification and the Establishment Clause,” said Tod Story, president of the Nevada ACLU.

But advocates state simply because a school is religious does not indicate the guideline is too.

“It’s pretty apparent that the money is for an instructional purpose,” said Michael Chartier, state programs director for the Friedman Foundation, which advised policymakers on the new law.

The argument over religious schools will be especially vital in Nevada, where the large bulk of well regarded independent schools are religious. For many households that may use the money, especially those who live in low-income areas in the inner city of Las Vegas, spiritual schools are the only independent schools in the area.

And at many sectarian private schools, it’s difficult to disentangle faith from daily learning.

In order to enroll at St. Anne’s Catholic School near downtown Las Vegas, for example, father and mothers have to sign files accepting support the “concepts specifically particular of a Catholic school, (and) exhibit the values and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church.”

At St. Christopher’s, students are anticipated to participate in all spiritual activities except for the Sacraments. St. Francis de Sales requires father and mothers and students to sign a document saying they will “be devoted” in their spiritual dedications and “strive to develop strong prayer lives.”

Lots of Catholic schools also provide tuition savings to parents who are already members of the church. So if father and mothers became parishioners, they would have more voucher cash to invest in other things.

That could matter in a possible suit, but school option supporters are staunchly versus the state asking private schools to alter their existing policies.

“It’s crucial that private schools not be required to change admissions policies,” Chartier stated. “When you need schools to alter that, you require them to change their culture. Parents choose them since of the culture they have.”

Scott Hammond, the Republican state senator who sponsored the costs, stated the program is a lot like Medicaid, where the government often pays spiritual hospitals for patients’ medical care.

“We have actually done everything we can to ensure that we’ve had the separation there,” he stated. “It’s not the state choosing [where the cash is spent], it’s the person.”

Up until now, nobody has actually advance to challenge the law. However opponents say it’s just a matter a time.

“Somebody’s going to challenge it,” stated John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County instructor’s union. “They’re not going to get a complimentary pass on this.”

Late last month Vellardita said his organization had not decided yet. But exactly what about the state instructor’s union, the Nevada State Education Association?

“We have not taken any positions or made any choices,” stated Ruben Murillo, the union’s president. “We’re not likelying to just jump into something without having a strategy.”

Murillo stated numerous groups had approached him about the program. He would not say which groups, but said that they were presently taking a look at the law and might decide soon.

Story stated the ACLU is likewise checking out the law to see if it passes constitutional muster.

In North Carolina and Florida, court battles are still being waged over the constitutionality of vouchers. In Indiana and Alabama, coupons have been declared constitutional.

In Colorado, coupons were challenged nearly as quickly as they were authorized. In most of the claims, teacher’s unions have been the leading force. They’re typically joined by a variety of civil rights groups, consisting of the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

A lawsuit can avoid states from putting coupons into impact. But for now the Nevada program is safe. This summer season the state treasurer’s office is preparing the regulations, a process that could take till September.