School reform proponents are now batting .500 in defense of one of the country’s most ambitious choice plans, Nevada’s Education Savings Accounts.
But they’ll need to up that average to claim victory.
On Wednesday, District Judge Eric Johnson turned back a challenge to the law, which allows parents fed up with the public schools to use state per-pupil funding to pay for private schools, home-schooling, tutoring or other education services. Opponents in this case argued that because families could use the money to send their children to private schools such as Bishop Gorman or Faith Lutheran, the program violated a Nevada constitutional provision banning the use of public funds for sectarian purposes.
But Judge Johnson correctly noted that the ESA model left all decisions to parents, not the state, a significant distinction. “The state has no influence over how any parent makes his or her genuine and independent choice to spend ESA funds,” he wrote.
The judge also rejected the specious contention that the program — established by lawmakers in 2015 — somehow ran afoul of a state constitutional provision requiring a “uniform system of public schools.”
Gov. Brian Sandoval, who made ESAs an integral part of his bold effort to upend the hidebound education establishment, applauded Judge Johnson’s decision. But the fight has yet to be won. In January, a Carson City judge ruled against ESAs in a separate legal challenge, putting the reform on hold during appeal. State officials have asked the Nevada Supreme Court to expedite the case as parents and kids remain in limbo, but the court has yet to set a timetable for arguments.
While Judge Johnson’s decision provides choice advocates with a dose of cautious optimism, they should hold the high fives until the state’s high court issues the ultimate verdict.