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Nevada Supreme Court to hear school choice challenge in six weeks

The Nevada Supreme Court’s clerk has scheduled oral arguments for the remaining constitutional challenge to the state’s controversial school choice law.

Following the Supreme Court’s internal operating procedure, the clerk on Tuesday sent a notice to lawyers involved in the case that the justices would meet July 8 at Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas to hear one hour of argument.

The notice, which procedure requires at least six weeks before the scheduled hearing date, made no mention of an unopposed motion that Attorney General Adam Laxalt filed last week.

In the motion, he requested July 8 as a deadline for the justices to render a final decision in the case. Laxalt asked the justices to schedule oral arguments for early June, so the case could be decided before the start of the 2016-17 school year in August.

The law passed by the 2015 Nevada Legislature allows parents to set up education savings accounts, or ESAs, administered by the state treasurer and use the state portion of per-pupil funding to send their children to private schools, many of which are run by religious organizations.

The ACLU sued in August to halt implementation of the voucher-style program on grounds that it violated a constitutional prohibition against using taxpayer money for sectarian purposes.

Last week, Clark County District Judge Eric Johnson dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit. The civil rights organization has not yet said if it will appeal his ruling to the Supreme Court.

Separately, Carson City District Judge James Wilson in January issued an injunction against ESA implementation after he ruled the measure is unconstitutional because the Nevada Constitution requires lawmakers to set apart money to be used to fund the operation of public schools, “to the exclusion of all other purposes.”

Last week’s motion seeking quick oral arguments said Wilson’s injunction is the “only impediment to implementing the ESA program before next academic year.”

“But the window is rapidly closing to obtain a decision from this court soon enough so that the treasurer’s office can implement the ESA program before the funding deadline for the coming school year, and so thousands of families who have applied for ESAs will know, one way or another, whether ESA funds will be available,” the court filing said.

It’s unclear when the Supreme Court will issue a final decision, but the treasurer’s office needs about three weeks to process thousands of pending applications should the injunction be dissolved.

More than 6,000 applications have been received for the program that would authorize parents to claim on average $5,100 annually for private education costs.

Review-Journal writer Sandra Chereb contributed to this report. Contact Neal Morton at nmorton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Find @nealtmorton on Twitter.

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