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ACLU tries to prevent parents from helping their children

August 28, 2015

Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit that would limit Nevada parents’ ability to make educational decisions based on what is best for their children. Earlier this year, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signed SB 302, creating education savings accounts available to almost every child in Nevada. The ACLU is suing to block parents’ choices, even if a parent’s choice would help their child succeed.

With education savings accounts, also available to families and their children in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee, the state deposits public funds in a private bank account that parents use to purchase educational products and services for their students.

The Goldwater Institute successfully defended Arizona’s accounts from a similar lawsuit alongside the Institute for Justice and then-State Superintendent John Huppenthal. In 2014, the Arizona Supreme Court declined to consider the case, which meant the earlier Court of Appeals’ ruling in favor of the accounts stands.

In 2013, Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Jon W. Thompson wrote in a unanimous opinion, “The specified object of the ESA is the beneficiary families, not private or sectarian schools. Parents can use the funds deposited in the empowerment account to customize an education that meets their children’s unique educational needs.”

The ACLU is suing in order to block the state from funding the accounts on the grounds that if parents used an account at a religious school, that would promote a religious purpose. The ACLU says this would violate provisions of the Nevada state constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court, along with the Arizona Supreme Court and several other state courts, have ruled that parental choices in education provided by measures like Nevada’s education savings accounts are constitutional.

The accounts would help families like the Manning’s. Zavia Manning has a plan for her children, Laila and Caitlyn. In 2015, Zavia saw Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s announcement on TV about the accounts and how every public school child could apply, and she acted quickly. “I thought, for my family, we need this,” Zavia says.

Zavia wants Caitlyn, age 5, to have a strong experience in elementary school. “I need Caitlyn to grasp the fundamentals in grades 1-5,” Zavia explains.

Depending on what happens with the ACLU’s lawsuit, Caitlyn may be going to the same school Zavia plans to choose using an education savings account as Caitlyn’s sister, Laila, age 11. Laila attended a charter school, and while Laila’s first and even second year at this school were successful, things became troubling in fourth and fifth grade.

Zavia discovered that Laila was failing her classes, but she had received no notice from her school. Once Zavia discovered that her daughter needed help, she asked the school to hold Laila back because she was simply not ready to enter sixth grade. The school refused.
“They said they were going to pass her right on through,” Zavia says. So Zavia applied for one of Nevada’s new education savings accounts.

Though Laila’s school was a good fit for her during one phase of her life, the school was no longer the best place for her to succeed. Her mother knew things had to change. Zavia wants her daughters to be challenged and prepared for life, and education savings accounts will help the Mannings fulfill these aspirations.

Nevada Treasurer Dan Schwartz said in a statement: “[W]e believe that SB 302 is clearly aimed at aiding and improving our children’s education, whether it be in public or private schools, secular or non-sectarian institutions. The bill’s intent is to give parents the choice on how and where their children should be educated.”

Parents using similar accounts in Arizona report high levels of satisfaction. In a 2013 survey, the Goldwater Institute and Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found that all parents using education savings accounts in Arizona reported some level of satisfaction. Even parents that were highly satisfied with their previous public school satisfaction with an education savings account.

Arizona’s courts ruled that the beneficiary of an education savings account is a child, not a school. Nevada courts should rule the same.



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