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Rogers Foundation officials challenge private school voucher initiative

Two officials with The Rogers Foundation filed lawsuits Tuesday challenging a private school voucher initiative.

Foundation Chair Beverly Rogers and Chief Executive Officer Rory Reid are suing Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske in First Judicial District Court in Carson City.

One of the lawsuits challenges a petition seeking to amend the Nevada Constitution “to require the Nevada Legislature to create an education savings account program for K-12 students to attend schools and educational programs other than public schools,” according to court documents.

The petition commands the state legislature to enact a law no later than the 2025 school year to establish a voucher-style program or education savings account, according to court documents.

It would “authorize parents to use state money to pay for private school tuition,” the documents say.

The other lawsuit challenges a statutory initiative petition. The petition’s description says it would establish an “education freedom account” program where parents with a child who has attended public school in Nevada for the preceding school year — or who have a child eligible for kindergarten — could establish an account for their child, court documents say.

Money in the accounts could be used to pay for “certain educational expenses,” including tuition and fees at eligible private schools.

The petition says the maximum available grant would be 90 percent of the state’s base per pupil funding amount, which is $6,980 for fiscal year 2021-22 and $7,074 for fiscal year 2022-23.

A political action committee, Education Freedom for Nevada, filed the two petitions with the Secretary of State, according to a news release from Educate Nevada Now, an education policy organization affiliated with The Rogers Foundation. The Rogers Foundation is a charitable foundation that funds many education-related projects.

Court documents list Erin Phillips as the person who filed the petitions. The Review-Journal was unable to reach her via email for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

In both complaints filed Tuesday, attorneys argue the petitions are “invalid and must be stricken.”

“It’s ludicrous to think we would siphon off funding from our already poorly-funded public schools to provide them to entities that are free to discriminate and have no accountability,” Rogers said in the news release.

“Let’s be clear, we are not talking about school choice, we’re talking about the school’s choice to reject students because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, religious affiliation or lack thereof, or because they need additional resources to succeed. We support public schools because they serve all students.”

Reid said in the release that public schools are already “grossly underfunded” and the effort to drain away hundreds of millions of dollars will make matters worse.

“A handful of special interest groups have organized an assault on public education, and now Nevada is one of the battlegrounds,” he said. “We believe an education system that serves all students, not just those from wealthy backgrounds, is worth fighting for.”

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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