ACLU’s Challenge of ESA Program is Attack on Choice

Published September 29, 2015

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada filed a lawsuit on August 27 challenging the constitutionality of Nevada’s education savings account (ESA) program. The ACLU claims the Nevada ESA program furthers a religious and sectarian purpose by allowing parents to choose religious educational options for their children.

Reality is not on the ACLU’s side. Not a single dollar has been set aside for the purpose of religious education. The Nevada education savings account program was set up to give parents better educational options for their children.

Gov. Brian Sandoval signed the ESA program into law on June 2. The program will allow parents to opt their children into the program and use funding for a variety of approved educational options, including private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, and therapies.

Most students would receive 90 percent of the annual per-pupil funding allotted to public schools statewide, a little more than $5,000. Low-income and special-needs students opting in would receive 100 percent of the state’s per-pupil funding. To be eligible for the ESA program, a child must have attended public school, including either traditional public schools or charter schools, for at least 100 days.

Children need to be opted into the ESA program by their parents, who then make the choice of how to spend the money allocated for their child. Nowhere along the way would religion be forced on anyone. Religion need not ever enter the picture. By the same flawed logic of the ACLU, college students who receive financial aid should not be allowed to attend religious colleges and universities, even if they choose to and even if it means a better education.

Pro-liberty groups, including the Nevada Policy Research Institute and The Heartland Institute, have been working diligently to explain the truth about the ESA program through news stories, op-eds, and press releases for months. The Institute for Justice will help defend the legality of the program.

“The ACLU claims the ESA program unconstitutionally furthers a religious or sectarian purpose because it allows parents to choose religious educational options for their children,” Keller explained. “But it is precisely the independent decision-making by parents that severs any link between church and state. As with all constitutional educational choice programs, parents — and not the government — decide the best educational setting for their child.”

The Institute for Justice has already successfully defended educational choice programs across the country, including Arizona’s ESA program, which served as a model for Nevada’s.

The ACLU is fighting against freedom, fighting against the right of a parent to decide which educational option is best for his or her child, and ignoring the fact Nevada’s traditional public schools have been failing students for years.

The ACLU of Nevada’s lawsuit is nothing but a poorly veiled attempt to stifle choice.

[Originally published at the Reno Gazette-Journal]