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EDITORIAL: Education activists ask justices to become lawmakers

A group of public school activists appeared in front of the Nevada Supreme Court this week urging the justices to jettison their robes and transform themselves into members of the state Legislature. Let’s hope they have the good sense to resist.

At issue is a lawsuit filed by a left-leaning group calling itself Educate Nevada Now, which argues that the state has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to “ensure a basic, uniform and sufficient education for the schoolchildren of this state.” The legal action essentially proclaims that poor outcomes are in and of themselves evidence that the state has been deficient in funding the public schools.

No doubt, Nevada’s public school system is a mess, particularly in Clark County. Yet repeated infusions of additional money — including a $1.4 billion tax hike in 2015, the largest in state history — have failed to yield the desired results. Perhaps other factors are in play such as the moribund education establishment’s resistance to any and all efforts to impose a modicum of accountability on the foundering system as a means of promoting improvement.

But the lawsuit has more flaws than just its highly dubious assumption that educational nirvana is just over the horizon as long as taxpayers accede to unending demands from education unions. The state constitution explicitly grants the Legislature, not the judiciary, the power to address the fiscal needs for the public schools.

Having failed to persuade lawmakers to heed its cries for limitless education funding, Educate Nevada Now seeks to have judges order lawmakers to raise school spending. And that approach didn’t go over well with a District Court judge who dismissed the lawsuit in October 2021.

“Consistent with the separation of powers doctrine,” Judge James Wilson wrote in a five-page decision, “the court will not substitute its judgment for that of the Legislature with respect to education policy in the state of Nevada.”

During Tuesday’s arguments of Educate Nevada Now’s appeal of Judge Wilson’s ruling, Nevada Solicitor General Heidi Parry Stern told the justices, “Plaintiffs here are seeking to impose aspirational standards on the state. They’re not seeking to get rid of something that the Legislature did that conflicted with the constitution.”

Whether the state should spend more money on public education is a side issue. At the heart of the matter is who gets to make that decision. Lawmakers have the power of the purse and the constitutional authority to determine the level of resources they deem sufficient for the public schools. The justices are not charged with making public policy. And that’s how it should be.

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