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Court stalls Nevada private school voucher initiative

Proponents of a constitutional initiative in Nevada that would allow parents to use state money to pay for private school tuition cannot circulate a petition for the effort, a judge ruled Monday.

Senior Judge Charles McGee, of the District Court in Carson City, ruled the petition was missing crucial details about the plan’s effect on public schools and represented an unconstitutional unfunded mandate.

The petition “misleadingly fails to disclose that any funding appropriated for the contemplated program would inevitably reduce the funding available for Nevada’s public school system,” read the ruling from McGee, who as a senior judge still hears cases post-retirement.

Education Freedom for Nevada, a political action committee, is seeking voter support to amend the Nevada Constitution to require that the state Legislature, by 2025, create an educational savings account or voucher-style program for K-12 students.

Parents could use those dollars, which the petition says would be comparable to public school spending, to provide students with education outside of public schools. The petition does not say specifically how the initiative would be funded other than that it could be through a tax increase or by reducing government services.

McGee found the initiative violates the constitution’s prohibition on initiatives that call for spending money without specifying where that money will come from. “If the initiative does not comply with section 6 (of Article 19 of the state constitution) then the initiative is void,” McGee wrote, quoting a state Supreme Court ruling from 2006. “This is what the Petition does. The Petition mandates the Nevada Legislature appropriate money to fund each (education account) in an amount comparable to the amount of funding that would otherwise be used in the public school system.”

Erin Phillips, the PAC’s chairwoman, said that she found McGee’s ruling to be “extremely bizarre” and beyond the scope of what he was supposed to review.

“Frankly, I don’t think he should be hearing any cases,” she said.

But Phillips — who is also the co-founder and president of Power2Parent, a nonprofit parents’ rights group — said that the ruling represented only a small setback as she vowed to soon outline proponents’ next steps. The group could appeal the ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court, but it faces a June 29 deadline to gather the required 140,777 valid signatures necessary to put the measure on the ballot.

“I think it’s just a hiccup,” she said.

Top officials at the art- and education-focused charitable organization, The Rogers Foundation, who sued Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske over the initiative in February, welcomed McGee’s ruling, which effectively stalls efforts by Education Freedom for Nevada.

“It is encouraging to see that the courts are not going to allow this shadowy group to deceive the public into funding a scheme without knowing the extreme damage the proposal would have on our community,” said Rory Reid, CEO of the Rogers Foundation and a former Clark County commission chairman.

Reid sued over the constitutional initiative. The ruling also enjoins Cegavske from placing the petition on the ballot.

A second lawsuit, which challenges a statutory initiative petition backed by Education Freedom for Nevada, has yet to be ruled upon.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

Reid v. Cegavske (22-0C-00028 1B) by Steve Sebelius on Scribd

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