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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada defended its school choice program that offers parents several thousand dollars to send their children to private schools if they choose, telling a Clark County judge that the state isn't directly funding religious schools.
The state argued Thursday that a case filed on behalf of five Nevada residents by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State should be dismissed.
State solicitor general Lawrence VanDyke likened the Education Savings Accounts to a public agency paying his salary or contributing to an employee health savings account. The state funds it, he said, but it's up to the parents how to spend it.
Richard Katskee, an attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said there's nothing wrong with parents choosing to send children to private schools but the state shouldn't be paying for it.
The program, considered one of the broadest in the country since it doesn't impose any limits based on family income, allows families to use about $5,000 that would normally have funded their child's public school education and use it to pay for a private school education instead. Already 3,500 parents have signed up and the state has said it plans to start disbursing funds by February. Children must take a standardized test and be enrolled in a Nevada public school for at least 100 days before receiving any funds in their account.
In court, Katskee cited language in the Nevada Constitution that bars public funds from being used for a religious purpose.
VanDyke argued the legislation authorizing the school choice program is for an educational purpose, not a religious one. He also argued the plaintiffs in the case, Nevada taxpayers, don't have standing to bring the constitutional complaint.
Judge Eric Johnson appeared to be concerned about allowing plaintiffs to sue simply because they didn't like a new law.
"I don't want to open up a flood gate," he said to Katskee. "There's always going to be somebody who doesn't like what the legislature has proposed."
Katskee said it was a matter of taxpayer funds being used unlawfully, arguing the plaintiffs have a right to sue.
After hearing three hours of arguments, Johnson didn't say when he expected to return with a ruling.
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