The Republicans have no one but themselves to blame.
Last week, state Judge James Wilson granted a preliminary injunction sought by opponents of Nevada’s Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), effectively blocking the controversial broadest-in-the-nation school voucher program from moving forward.
It wasn’t a surprise, but it was satisfying just the same.
The program was approved by the 2015 Nevada Legislature in the waning days of the session, on a party-line vote. Despite many warnings, the Republicans and Gov. Brian Sandoval let their “private is always better” ideology blur their judgment, and they blissfully ignored the obvious constitutional flaws in the new law.
Wilson emphasized he was not taking a stand on the merits of school vouchers, observing, “Courts have no super-veto power, based upon public policy grounds,” and that he did not consider whether the “provisions for education savings accounts are wise, workable, or worthwhile.” However, he declared the plaintiff parents clearly proved that the measure violated the state’s constitution (article 11, sections 6.1 and 6.2) which prohibits the transfer of funds dedicated to the operation of public schools to any other use, resulting in irreparable harm if the injunction were not granted.
Therefore, the two lawsuits filed against the ESA will continue winding their way through the courts, infuriating parents who relied on the Republicans’ decision to ignore the constitution, left with the prospect of paying their private school bills without the taxpayers’ help.
Nevada’s public schools need to improve. Earlier this month, Mississippi surged past us, leaving Nevada in 51st place in the annual Quality Counts report. But some of the report’s metrics have more to do with our demographics than the kids or the teachers. Nevada ranked lower than any other state in the number of families with at least one parent holding a college degree (only a third) and just two states ranked lower in the number of children who have parents who can’t speak English fluently.
In Washoe County, our crowded schools are about to get worse thanks to the large businesses attracted by the state’s economic development giveaways and their new employees’ thousands of children. As predicted, the committee tasked with choosing which taxes should be raised to build more schools has decided to ask voters to agree to a substantial increase in local sales and/or property tax in November, raising $600-800 million.
Tray Abney, a lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce, is worried about his son who attends an especially crowded south Reno elementary school. He told KUNR, “We can’t fit the kids we have now, much less the Tesla kids and the Switch kids and the other kids that are coming here.” So much for the arguments that growth pays for itself and that these new subsidized jobs are for people who already live here.
The tax proposal seems unlikely to pass unless the school district’s superintendent, Traci Davis, and the companies most responsible for the sharp uptick in projected students are willing to put their “skin in the game.”
Davis and Tesla could voluntarily offer a “claw-back” on the ridiculously generous taxpayer-funded handouts they demanded and were provided by the school board and the Legislature. Davis could give back her five-month longevity bonus, her attorney fees, and her back-dated extra salary compensation. That gesture might start the healing that is necessary for the taxpayers to regain confidence in the district’s leadership.
Tesla’s billionaire executive, Elon Musk, and his stockholders could offer to build an elementary school or two instead of insulting us with their $37.5 million “donation” to Nevada’s schools, since we’ll have to wait 20 long years before realizing any sales tax from their megafactory.
If they’re not willing to help fund new schools, why should we?