ESA’s could be boldest education reform measure since creation of Milwaukee School Choice in 1990
July 27, 2016 – Milwaukee, WI – WILL President Rick Esenberg and Vice President of Policy CJ Szafir have filed an amicus brief in the Nevada Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of Nevada’s newly enacted Education Savings Account (ESA) program. The brief was filed on behalf of the American Federation for Children, Dr. Patrick Wolf from University of Arkansas, School Choice Wisconsin, Hispanics for School Choice and WILL, itself. This week, the Supreme Court accepted the brief.
In 2015, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval decided to go big with education reform. He helped pass a near-universal eligibility ESA program – with no enrollment caps – where 93% of all Nevada children would be eligible to receive an account from the state to spend education dollars however and wherever the parent sees fit. By funding each ESA up to 90% of per pupil public spending, the ESA completely empowers parents to make decisions about their child’s education. Some call it the boldest education reform measure since the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program in 1990.
Sadly, the program has yet to be implemented because it is tied up in court. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada is challenging the ESA program on several state constitutional ground including how the program creates a separate – non-uniform – school system. A group called Educate Nevada Now challenged the program on grounds that the Nevada Constitution requires the state to fund public education first. The two cases have been consolidated for oral argument before the Nevada Supreme Court – which will be held on July 29th.
In countering a brief filed by advocacy groups from Wisconsin (led by the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools), the WILL brief uses Milwaukee Parental Choice Program as an example for why Education Savings Accounts in Nevada are a “suitable means” to encourage education – and therefore constitutional under the Nevada Constitution. The 26 year history of the Milwaukee choice program establishes that: 1) public schools and private schools in the choice programs can co-exist and 2) the Milwaukee choice program has worked very well, significantly improving the lives of low-income children in Milwaukee.
Rick Esenberg, WILL President and General Counsel: “Nevada’s ESA program could be a game-changer in education policy, significantly improving school choice by giving parents greater autonomy over their children’s’ education. But, as we know all too well in Wisconsin, it is incredibly frustrating to see an impactful law held up in the courts. We are happy to add to the debate by countering the misinformation spread in Nevada state court by opponents of school choice.”
More information about Nevada’s ESA program – as well as other states’ ESA programs and the potential for one in Wisconsin – can be found in WILL’s policy report, “ESA: A Primer for 21st Century Education Policy.”