The controversy over Nevada’s Educational Savings Account (ESA) law heated up yesterday as state officials traded barbs over a new lawsuit filed by Lt. Governor Mark Hutchison.
Already in court, the ESA, or school choice, law is being challenged for its constitutionality.
The law was passed by the legislature last year. It gives parents the option to choose schools, including private schools — many of which are religious — and provides per-pupil funding of $5,100 each school year.
The educational savings account may be used for private schooling, tutoring, test taking, textbooks or online learning, according to Nevada Attorney General Paul Laxalt.
While the ESA program is awaiting a judge’s decision, Hutchison, also a private attorney, filed his own lawsuit to encourage a quicker court decision. He said he is representing Nevada families in his suit for free.
“I filed the lawsuit to secure a quick court decision for my clients declaring that the ESA law is constitutional, and removing any legal barrier from the state timely funding my clients’ ESAs, and thereby removing the uncertainty of my clients, as well as the thousands of Nevadans concerning their ESAs,” Hutchison said in a statement.
But Laxalt and State Treasurer Dan Schwartz are clearly miffed by Hutchison’s separate lawsuit. Laxalt filed a motion yesterday to have Hutchison’s suit dismissed.
“Mark Hutchison notified me minutes before he sued the Treasurer on December 22,” Laxalt said. “It was a fait accompli. He did not ask for my advice, nor did he provide my office with the actual lawsuit until after it was filed. Mark Hutchison knows this.
“It is the job of the … Attorney General to defend the Treasurer, the state and the state’s legal interests. We are doing that; we are doing our job. Notwithstanding Hutchison’s attempt to turn this into a political show, my office will continue to treat this lawsuit just as it has treated every threat to Nevada’s ESA program.”
Schwartz, in an interview yesterday with ThisisReno, accused Hutchison of ethical violations and using the lawsuit to further his political career.
“He’s using this to fill his campaign coffers for political office,” Schwartz said. “We’ve never seen the Lt. Governor at any of the hearings. I’ve never seen him at any of the workshops.
“He went about getting (information) surreptitiously from one of my staff. All (this lawsuit) is going to do is distract from our other cases, which are serious cases. It’s a political stunt. It’s a perversion of justice. He’s using the court system for his own political gain. I’m seriously considering asking him to resign.”
Hutchison, in return, criticized Schwartz’s remarks.
“The treasurer has a history of questionable decision making and inaccurate statements,” he said. “His recent comments are no exception.”
The school choice law is being challenged by a group of parents and the ACLU in the two different lawsuits.
The state has hired outside legal counsel, approved by Governor Brian Sandoval, to assist the state with defending against lawsuits, Schwartz said.