Carson City District Judge James Wilson on Monday issued a preliminary injunction blocking the release of school voucher money until the case challenging the program’s constitutionality is resolved.
Wilson wrote that the parents challenging the Educational Savings Accounts law failed to prove Senate Bill 302 violates the state constitution on its face, but did prove that, “irreparable harm will result if an injunction is not entered.”
He barred Nevada Treasurer Dan Schwartz from implementing the program in February.
Wilson was asked to decide both whether to issue the preliminary injunction and to declare the law violates the state constitution.
He said the Plaintiff parents failed to prove that, as required, “there is no set of circumstances under which the statute would be valid.”
But he rejected the treasurer’s argument that the ESA program fits within the constitution because it was created for “educational purposes.” He cited an earlier Nevada Supreme Court ruling that the legislature is barred from using the state’s education money “for any purpose except that immediately connected with the public school system.”
The ESA program was created by the 2015 Legislature to allow parents to claim up to $5,100 a school year in state money to help pay tuition for their children to attend private schools.
A coalition including parents in Reno and Las Vegas and Democratic former state Sen. Justin Jones challenged the program saying it unconstitutionally dips into public education funding, potentially damaging the educational opportunities for K-12 students and violating the constitutional mandate that state education funding is to fund public schools only. The group says it also violates the constitutional ban on using public funding for religious purposes since the majority of those private schools are operated by religious groups.
Since the program would divert public school funding to the ESA’s, Wilson wrote that the Plaintiff parents “have shown a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of the (constitutional challenge).”
SB302’s diversion of funds from the, “direct legislative appropriation from the General Fund to fund the operation of the public schools reduces the amount deemed sufficient by the Legislature to fund public education and, therefore, violates Article 11, Section 6.2 (of the Nevada Constitution),” the order states.
He ordered a telephone conference for Monday, Jan. 18, to decide when a hearing on the merits of the lawsuit can be held. He blocked the treasurer’s office from proceeding with the issuance of any ESA funding until the constitutionality of the law is resolved.
Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt found positive in the ruling.
“Although a preliminary injunction was granted this afternoon, our Office is pleased that the court ruled in Nevada’s favor on two of the three claims asserted against the law—one of which has been made in the related Las Vegas case,” Laxalt said in a statement. “We are reviewing the order with respect to the third claim and considering our legal options to ensure that Nevada’s parents receive the educational funds they are entitled to.”