Former solicitor general to defend voucher program | NevadaAppeal.com

Former solicitor general to defend voucher program

Nevada is hiring former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement to defend lawsuits against Nevada’s school vouchers program.

The Board of Examiners on Tuesday approved $10,000 to bring him on board but was told down the road, the cost would be at least another $250,000 to defend the constitutionality of the Educational Savings Accounts enacted by Gov. Brian Sandoval and the 2015 Nevada Legislature.

That program plans to use Distributive School Account funding of up to $5,000 per student to pay for their tuition at private — and mostly religious — schools in the state. National groups have hailed it as the most expansive and progressive school choice program in the nation.

But it has been challenged by a group of parents and by the American Civil Liberties Union on grounds that it violates Nevada’s Constitution, which prohibits transferring public funds to religious organizations.

Assistant Attorney General Nick Trutanich told the board the lawsuits have drawn national attention by both groups for and against school vouchers. He said they need talent like that of Clement.

“Because of the landmark nature of the Nevada program, other eyes are looking at it,” he said.

“The issues presented in this case are not novel and exclusive to the Nevada Constitution,” he said, adding the ACLU is pitting “this giant legal team” against the state.

Attorney General Adam Laxalt said Clement is “a $1,500 an hour lawyer” who’s giving Nevada a major reduction on his fees.

“Having the expertise of Paul Clement at this very discounted rate gives us the best shot at defending this case,” he said.

In addition, the board headed by the governor approved a total of just under $500,000 for the Treasurer’s Office, which is charged with managing the vouchers program. Some $128,555 will pay for three employees to process the payments from the state through the parents to the schools. Another $368,025 will hire a firm called Interactive Ideas to create the computer program and database, according to Treasurer’s Chief of Staff Grant Hewitt, “so that schools can sign up to accept the money in November.”

He said those amounts are loans that would eventually be paid back to the state from the 3 percent administrative fee the Treasurer is allowed to charge parents and the schools receiving the money.

Sandoval asked if there was some risk in putting that money out there. Hewitt said there was if the courts were to block implementation of the program.

“The state Treasurer’s Office does not have the resources to repay it,” he said.

Finally, the board accepted a $1.29 million reduction in the contract payment to the firm Measured Progress. That company was hired to implement and manage the state’s 2014-2015 criterion- referenced tests for Nevada school students. Only about 30 percent of students were able to actually take and complete the tests because of problems with the computer program. The company has since been replaced.