Lawsuit against state education department needed to protect low-income students

Robert Fellner

The Institute for Justice just filed a lawsuit against the Nevada Department of Education, and that’s great news for the hundreds of students who are in danger of losing their scholarships ever since the Legislature gutted Nevada’s Opportunity Scholarship Program last session.

The program provides scholarships to the children of low-income, mostly minority families, and is financed entirely by private businesses, who in return receive a dollar-to-dollar credit against their payroll taxes.

The original version of the program included an annual 10 percent increase in the total amount of tax credits that could be issued each year.

But that provision was removed by the Democrats last session via Assembly Bill 458, which will prevent any future growth in the program by capping the total amount of available tax credits at roughly $6.7 million annually.

AB458’s immediate effect is a $2 million reduction in the amount of tax credits that can be issued over the next biennium, which has jeopardized the scholarships of many students.

But because the bill increases revenue for the state, the constitution mandates at least two-thirds support of the Legislature in order to pass, a threshold it failed to meet in the senate.

Consequently, the IJ lawsuit asks the court to invalidate AB458 as unconstitutional, which would restore the funding necessary to maintain the scholarships of existing students going forward.

“We applaud the Institute for Justice for their efforts to prevent low-income students from having their scholarships ripped away from them,” NPRI policy director Robert Fellner said.

“But beyond the constitutionality of AB458, the real problem is the Democrats’ continued hostility to a program that has successfully helped thousands of low-income children find a school that better fits their unique needs.”

When introducing the bill, Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson justified eliminating the annual 10 percent increase based on concerns that the program supposedly takes money away from traditional public schools.

But because the average scholarship amount is approximately $5,000, each scholarship generates a net savings for taxpayers, who pay over $10,000 per-pupil to the traditional public school system.

“It is unfortunate that Speaker Frierson left the hearing early, rather than staying to listen to parents explain the life-changing impact the program has made for their children,” Fellner said.

“Had Frierson stayed and listened to the numerous parents, teachers and administrators who testified in support of the program, he would have heard how the enormous benefits of the program come at no cost whatsoever to public schools.”

Fellner also noted that Democrats’ alleged concerns over public school funding were sharply contradicted by their actions, particularly when it came to bills that would redirect funds to their union allies.

“Frierson and Democrats passed legislation that takes tens of millions of dollars directly from public schools, just so union workers on public works projects receive wages that are, on average, 62 percent above market rates,” Fellner said.

“Democrats must prioritize the needs of parents and students over the unions and others who benefit from the existing monopoly system,” Fellner added.

Studies have consistently shown that school choice programs generate savings for taxpayers and public schools, improve test scores at public schoolsraise teacher salaries and produce exceptionally high levels of parental satisfaction.

“Unsurprisingly, choice and competition produce better results than a one-size-fits-all monopoly,” Fellner concluded.

A poll released earlier this year revealed that 68 percent of Nevadans support the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

To learn more about the benefits of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, please click here to listen to the testimony submitted by parents, teachers, administrators and the students themselves about the life-changing benefits of the program.

Robert Fellner

Robert Fellner

Director of Policy

Robert Fellner is NPRI’s policy director and joined the Institute in December 2013. Robert has written extensively on the issue of transparency in government. He has also conducted legal research and assisted in crafting legal arguments for numerous public records-related lawsuits, including one which prevailed at the Nevada Supreme Court, resulting in a landmark decision that protected and expanded Nevadans’ rights to access and inspect government records.

An expert on government compensation and its impact on taxes, Robert has authored multiple studies on public pay and pensions. He has been published in Business Insider, Forbes.com, the Las Vegas Review Journal, the Los Angeles Times, RealClearPolicy.com, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, ZeroHedge.com and elsewhere.

Robert has lived in Las Vegas since 2005 when he moved to Nevada to become a professional poker player. Robert has had a remarkably successfully poker career including two top 10 World Series of Poker finishes and being ranked #1 in the world at 10/20 Pot-Limit Omaha cash games.

Additionally, his economic analysis on the minimum wage won first place in a 2011 George Mason University essay contest. He also independently organized a successful grassroots media and fundraising effort for a 2012 presidential candidate, before joining the campaign in an official capacity.