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Governor seeks quick ruling on education savings accounts

CARSON CITY — Gov. Brian Sandoval on Friday asked Attorney General Adam Laxalt to use all resources available to seek an expedited hearing on the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada challenging legislation that establishes the Education Savings Account program in the state.

“More than three thousand Nevada families have applied for an Education Savings Account in order to take control of their child’s future in education,” Sandoval said in a statement. “It is clear that parents want the freedom to choose the best school to meet the needs of their students. The uncertainty and legal gridlock created by this lawsuit will significantly impact student success.”

The ACLU filed a lawsuit last week, contending the Nevada Constitution strictly prohibits any use of public funds for a sectarian, or religious, purpose. The national organization, its Nevada chapter and the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State plan to ask a Clark County District Court judge to temporarily halt the state’s implementation of ESAs. The case is Duncan v. State of Nevada.

In the Friday statement, Sandoval also said: “I believe it is in the best interest of the state and our education system to avoid these costly legal battles by seeking an expedited hearing on this matter and, if necessary, a final ruling by the Nevada Supreme Court. This will allow students, parents, educators, and the state to move forward and properly direct our focus toward collectively creating a system that provides children with the resources and learning environment they need to thrive and succeed.”

Sandoval said last week he expected the legal challenge to be filed but was still disappointed by the action.

In response to Sandoval’s comments, Laxalt said in a statement that his priority is to ensure that his office provides “the most comprehensive, considered and successful defense possible of this crucial law.”

“To that end, although our office was served with the lawsuit only yesterday, we have already assembled a top-notch litigation team to research and weigh all available alternatives and to implement the best path going forward,” he said.

On a personal note, Laxalt said that as a parent of a daughter nearing school age, “I empathize with the thousands of Nevada parents who want clarity on whether they will be allowed, as the Legislature intended, to have genuine school choice.”

“I will aim, consistent with court procedure and the case’s complexity, to see that they get both as soon as practically possible: their answer and their choice,” he concluded.

Passed by the 2015 Legislature, the accounts offer about about $5,000 in per-pupil funding to families who pull students out of a public school and instead funnel the money to a private or parochial campus. Parents also can spend the money on homeschooling, tutoring and other education services.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801

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