Courtroom interior_newWritten by Don Byrd

As I posted last year, Nevada’s recently enacted school voucher program is one of the most extensive in the country. It provides public funds in the form of education savings accounts to the parents of any public school child across the state to apply toward private school tuition, including religious schools. 

Multiple lawsuits challenging the law have been filed and yesterday a state district court judge granted a preliminary injunction, halting the program pending the outcome of the suit. The injunction was not focused on the issue of religious funding, but rather on a provision of the Nevada Constitution that prohibits the use for any other purpose of funds set aside for public schools.

Here is an excerpt from the opinion:

Sections 6.1 and 6.2 mandate that the legislature make appropriations to fund the operation of the public schools. . . . To “appropriate” means “to set apart for or assign to a particular purpose or use in exclusion to all others.”   Therefore, Sections 6.1 and 6.2 require the legislature to set apart or assign money to be used to fund the operation of the public schools, to the exclusion of all other purposes. Because some amount of general funds appropriate to fund the operation of the public schools will be diverted to fund education savings accounts under SB 302, that statute violates Sections 6.1 and 6.2 of Article 11.

Accordingly, the judge found the plaintiffs proved a likelihood of irreparable harm sufficient to justify issuing a permanent injunction. Associated Press reports the injunction comes “just weeks before money would have flowed to parents for private school tuition.”

The Baptist Joint Committee has long opposed school voucher programs that use public money for religious purposes in funding religious school tuition. Many state constitutions like Nevada’s contain provisions specifically prohibiting aid to religion.  Clearly there are many other reasons, legal and otherwise, to oppose programs that divert public school funds.

The state likely will appeal this ruling. Stay tuned.