Nevada board approves $125K more to defend voucher-style school program

The state has now paid the outside counsel hired to defend the school vouchers legislation $545,000.

The Nevada Board of Examiners voted Tuesday to allow the spending on Bancroft Associates, which is home to former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement. Clement is working to ward off two constitutional challenges to Senate Bill 302, the bill that created the so-called Educational Savings Accounts. The legislation would allow parents to take about $5,100 a year in state money and spend it to pay tuition for their children at private schools.

One of the bills focuses on the fact that most of those private schools are operated by religious groups. Opponents say Nevada’s Constitution prohibits giving public money to religious groups.

The other focuses on a section of the state Constitution that lawyer Tamerlin Godley argued requires public money be used “for the operation of public schools only,” not private schools of any kind.

Element argued the fact the money goes into an Educational Savings Account and not directly to the schools is enough of a separation to make them constitutional.

Assistant Attorney General Nick Trutanich told the Board of Examiners on Tuesday the latest request is for $125,000 to pay Clement retroactively for work he has already done. That is in addition to the $10,000 approved last October, the $285,000 approved in November and the March payment of $125,000.

He argued Clement is actually a bargain on those fixed amount contracts because, if he had charged his normal rate for the 2,000 hours he has put in, the total would cost Nevada some $1.1 million.

Trutanich also told the board he can’t promise this is the last payment because the Nevada Supreme Court hasn’t yet ruled on the lawsuits.

“I’m hesitant to say emphatically no without reading the Supreme Court opinion,” he said.

Opponents include the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. The group’s director, Tod Story, said he wondered why the Nevada Attorney General’s office wasn’t doing the defense in-house.

“I find it interesting that the AG’s office is paying outside counsel to defend a program that takes taxpayer dollars and funnels them to private religious schools,” he told the Associated Press.

The latest addition to the contract was approved by Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt. Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske was absent from the meeting.


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