Nevada Supreme Court Decision Evades School Choice Remedies

Today’s ruling by the Nevada Supreme Court issued a clear declaration that legislated increases to tax revenue require a two-thirds supermajority vote in order to remain constitutional, but supporters of school choice were left disappointed when the decision left untouched other provisions of the problematic law which undermined popular choice programs.

The decision reversed parts of a law, SB551, passed in the final hour of the 2019 Nevada legislative session along straight party lines, that increased tax revenue in different ways.  This has substantial implications for a state budget that relies on that revenue (about $100 per biennium) and also for future legislative deliberations with an eye on new tax dollars.

School choice advocates had hoped that the highly-anticipated ruling would strike down SB551 in its entirety, while the court instead decided to include in its scope only those sections that directly addressed the funding increases.

The most impactful of the law’s restrictions on school choice addressed Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, interpreted as mandating that only students who had received scholarships for the previous school year would be eligible for new scholarships, and only then only from the same scholarship organization.

Another provision in SB551 eliminated the Education Savings Account program from statute.

The law in question was also harmful to Nevada’s state charter schools, with a provision that excluded them from $72 million in supplemental support for other Nevada public schools.

These three school choice programs have consistently registered by Nevadans as among the most popular among all policy programs.  In a poll published by Nevada Action for School Options during the last legislative session, seven out of ten Nevada Hispanics and African-Americans registered their support for the Opportunity Scholarship program (with support even higher among parents with school-aged children within both groups).

Among parents of school-aged children, 80 percent indicated that the Education Savings Account program, as well as Opportunity Scholarships, should be available to all families, regardless of their household income levels.

Nevadans have also remained strong supporters of charter schools, with 70 percent of Hispanic and 69 percent of African-American respondents in support of these public school options.

These findings are aligned with numerous other scientific polls in recent years.

It can be hoped that state lawmakers, avid studiers of trends in popular opinion, will register this striking disconnect between the strong popularity of school choice programs among Nevadans and the agendas of the leaders responsible for the anti-choice measures in SB551, and look for opportunities to move toward strengthening diverse school options for more Nevada families.