School Funding Cases in Nevada

in Nevada Litigation

Nevada is one of only six states where no court case challenging the state’s education finance system has yet been decided and one of only five in which school funding cases have not been filed.

Other states with no such litigation to date are Delaware, Mississippi, Hawaii, and Utah. Iowa, with a case that was settled in 2004, has not had a court decision.

Guinn v. Angle: Schools Take Priority over Procedural Requirement

An impasse over school funding in 2003 prompted the governor (Kenny Guinn) to ask the Nevada Supreme Court to order the legislature to appropriate biennial school funding for the 2003-05 school years. A voter-approved constitutional amendment in Nevada requires a two-thirds majority in each house of the legislature for any revenue generating measure. Attempts to pass a revenue bill failed in 2003, and, therefore, the legislature did not pass the measure authorizing school funding expenditures.

The state supreme court held that:

The framers [of the constitution] have elevated the public education of the youth of Nevada to a position of constitutional primacy [and,] as a matter of [] substantive constitutional law, [] public education must be funded. . . .If the procedural two-thirds revenue vote requirement in effect denies the public its expectation of access to public education, then the two-thirds requirement must yield to the specific substantive educational right.

The court ordered the legislature to “proceed expeditiously . . . under simple majority rule” rather than the two-thirds rule, which resolved the impasse almost immediately.

In subsequent appeals, the Nevada Supreme Court reaffirmed its decision and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

 

Recent Events

Judge James Wilson of the First Judicial District Court of Nevada (Carson City) issued a preliminary injunction earlier last month in  Lopez v. Schwartz that prohibits  the state from implementing its recently-enacted school voucher law (SB 302). SB 302, adopted last summer, authorized the State Treasurer to use public funds to establish Education Savings Accounts (ESAs.) Funds in these accounts may be used to fund private school tuition, tutoring, home schooling and transportation.The Court held that Art. XI §§ 6.1 and 6.2 require that all funds appropriated for the public schools must be used for public schools only, and that  the Education Savings Accounts would be diverting public school funds to non-public school purposes.

 

Useful Resources

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Report, “Public School Finance Systems in the United States and Canada,” describes the Nevada school funding system in detail, as of the 1998-99 school year.

Last Updated: February 2016

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