Nevada Supreme Court rejects parents’ bid to join school-choice case

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a petition from a group of parents who sought to intervene in a case challenging the state’s new school choice law.

A three-judge panel, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice James Hardesty, said the interest of the parents are “adequately represented” by state Treasurer Dan Schwartz and the attorney general’s office.

The program is administered by the state treasurer’s office.

“Petitioners and the state share the same goal of having the education grant program created by Senate Bill 302 declared constitutional,” the court concluded.

The law passed by the 2015 Legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval allows parents to set up accounts through the treasurer’s office and receive the state portion of per-pupil funding to send their children to private school or pay for other educational programs.

Two lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the law were filed. In January, Carson City District Judge James Wilson issued an injunction, siding with other parents who argued that taking money from the public schools violates state law and would harm the quality of their own children’s public education.

The law is now on hold pending the outcome before the state high court.

Aimee Hairr, a Henderson mother, and five other parents who support the law, sought to become a party to the suit. Wilson denied that request, prompting an appeal to the Supreme Court and Thursday’s ruling.

Hairr pulled one of her children out of private school and placed the child in a charter school to comply with a rule that requires students be enrolled for 100 days in publicly financed schools to be eligible for the accounts.

Those parents and children are now in limbo.

Schwartz had initially said he hoped to begin funding the accounts in February, but that didn’t happen after the district court put the program on hold.

Hairr and the other parents who applied for accounts argued their voices should be heard as the court considers the merits.

“Many of the petitioner-parents’ children have been denied a basic education in their current public placement,” they wrote in a petition to the court. “It is therefore appropriate to act quickly to allow the families most affected by the program to have a say in deciding the significant constitutional issues concerning a program that so many of Nevada’s children are eligible to participate in.”

But the justices said the parents’ goals mirror the state’s.

“In this case, the petitioners and the state have the same ultimate objective — a determination that SB302 is constitutional — and petitioners did not identify any conflicting interest or point to any arguments that the state was refusing to make in support of the bill’s constitutionality,” the court said.

“To the contrary, the state has shown its willingness to fully defend the bill, including through appeal.”

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter.

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