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Gov. Sandoval to pursue constitutional change for school choice


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: Gov. Brian Sandoval will seek a constitutional amendment in the upcoming session of the Nevada Legislature to allow for public tax dollars to be used in a school voucher program that would include religious schools, a staff member said this week.

Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga, in a briefing with the media on Thursday, said a voucher bill submitted by former Gov. Jim Gibbons will be rewritten by the Sandoval administration. Sandoval intends to pursue the constitutional change, he said.

Changing the Nevada constitution is a complex process that would take as many as six years to accomplish, including voter approval.

“We will carry a voucher bill, . . . but our voucher bill will be a proposed constitutional amendment,” Erquiaga said. “We think the voucher program ought to cover all schools and they way they’ve done it, proposed to do it, would not be quite as comprehensive.”

Erquiaga did not elaborate on Sandoval’s school voucher plan.

There is currently a provision in the Nevada constitution that prohibits using public tax dollars for religious purposes.

Article 11, Section 10 of the Nevada constitution is a provision called a Blaine Amendment dating back to statehood, which prohibits the expenditure of public funds for “sectarian purposes.”

Courts have rejected voucher school programs in other states because of these Blaine Amendments.

Repealing the Blaine Amendment would require the Legislature to pass Sandoval’s proposal in two consecutive legislative sessions and then have it go to a vote of the people, which could not occur before 2014.

A handful of state lawmakers have tried and failed over the years to establish a voucher plan for Nevada students, giving parents a share of their taxes spent on public education so they can pick a school that best meets the needs of their children.

While other states have had some success, such measures have gone nowhere in Nevada. Two bills were introduced in the Assembly in 2009 to begin such programs. Neither bill got a hearing.

Gibbons tried without success in the 2010 special legislative session to get a hearing on a school voucher proposal that would have changed state law, not the constitution, and so not have required a vote of the people.

The proposal would have provided 75 percent of the local school district’s pupil support to licensed private schools, with no automatic exclusion for religious schools. The constitutional prohibition was to be avoided by a determination of the amount of religious instruction. If a religious-based school spent 25 percent or less of its time on religious instruction, then it would be argued the 75 percent state support would go to the academic instruction portion of the curriculum.

Critics were skeptical that such a law would withstand a legal challenge.

But the measure submitted by Gibbons prior to leaving office, Senate Bill 71, would exclude “faith-based” private schools from participating in the voucher program.

Erquiaga said Sandoval also will address the collective bargaining issue in his state-of-the-state address on Jan. 24, but he will not call for the complete elimination of the law as proposed by the out-going Gibbons administration in Senate Bill 41.

There is another collective bargaining reform bill, Senate Bill 78, requested by the City of Reno, that seeks reforms to the collective bargaining process, Erquiaga said.


Sandoval Senior Adviser Dale Erquiaga says a school voucher plan including religious schools is part of the governor’s 2011 agenda:

011411Erquiaga1 :08 quite as comprehensive.”

Erquiaga says Sandoval will propose a constitutional amendment so religious schools can be included:

011411Erquiaga2 :08 proposed constitutional amendment.”

Erquiaga says Sandoval will seek reforms to Nevada’s collective bargaining law, but will not seek complete repeal:

011411Erquiaga3 :16 elimination of it.”

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