ACLU pounces on Nevada for offering school choice vouchers, cites church/state separation

by Kelly Ledbetter, |

LAS VEGAS (Christian Examiner) – After Nevada's decision this summer to allow families school choice, educators' unions are terrified that children will seek alternate schooling in the state ranked last in education -- and their fear has resulted in what some suspect is a convenient alliance between them and an organization which purports to educate the public on its rights related to individual freedom. 

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the state of Nevada for offering education savings accounts (ESAs) to all children, allowing families that withdraw from public schools an educational stipend of about $5,000 per child.

In an opinion in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Educate Nevada Now director Sylvia Lazos wrote, "Nevada's ESAs have very few conditions, and access will be nearly universal. This program will further overwhelm a public school system still recovering from drastic budget cuts triggered by the Great Recession."

Already in use in four other states—Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, and Mississippi—the ESAs that Nevada offers would give parents vouchers equal to upwards of 90 percent of the average per-student allotment, which could be as high as $5,700, based on income.

This money can be used for tuition at private schools, tutoring costs, or homeschool expenses. Unused money rolls over and can even be applied to college.

The ACLU has declared a suit against Nevada because they say public funding should not be siphoned off into educational choices requiring religious instruction -- as is the case in many private schools. For groups such as the ACLU, religious education is considered "sectarian" and unconstitutional.

Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said, "The education savings account law passed [in] this last legislative session tears down the wall separating church and state erected in Nevada's constitution."


Nevada is the first state in the nation to offer this voucher to all students. Unlike the case for ESAs in other states, which are only available to specific income brackets, the only requirement is that students must attend a public school for 100 days before withdrawing.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the real motivation behind the lawsuit is the teachers' union's fear that low-income students will be able to escape the state's failing public school system now that they have the funding to support any alternative.

Lazos argued Nevada schools cannot afford these vouchers for universal ESAs. "Because the law has no income limit, the most affluent families, even millionaires and billionaires, can obtain the same allotment of $5,100 to $5,700 per child in taxpayer education dollars—taken from the public schools—to underwrite their child's private education."

U.S. News points out that the supposed max exodus of schoolchildren from Nevadan public education is unlikely to occur, considering the small fraction of students who opt out of public school nationally. Even though Nevada is unique in universalizing ESAs, the stance is unlikely to jeopardize all district schools.

In an answer to the position of the ACLU, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Ben Kieckhefer said, "Instead of empowering parents to help their children find an education environment that meets their needs, the ACLU wants to go back to a system of hard zoning, forcing poor and minority students into chronically failing schools and furthering cycles of generational poverty."

"The only people who lose if the ACLU is successful are the children of Nevada," he said.