Editor’s note: This commentary from Valeria Gurr, director of external relations for the American Federation for Children, and Shaka Mitchell, director of State Strategy and Advocacy for the American Federation for Children, appeared Friday on thenevadaindependent.com.
This spring, the U.S. Supreme Court has done its level best to stay in the headlines, but one pivotal case has yet to receive its due.
In the case of Carson v. Makin, the court found in favor of parents who wanted to use public funds to send their children to private, religious schools. While this case involved parties in the state of Maine, it could have major, positive effects for families in Nevada, too.
Parents who live in rural Maine and lack a local public high school could already use education funds apportioned by the government to put their kids in a private school. Unfortunately, for some families, they could not choose schools that provide religious instruction (though they could select a school that has a religious mission — the implication being that some schools are too religious).
The high court determined that if a state decides to allow education funds to be used for private school tuition, it may not discriminate against schools simply because they are religious. Parents in Maine may now choose schools according to their conscience, not the whim of a bureaucrat at the state Department of Education.
So, what does this mean for children in Nevada?
Some may erroneously believe the ruling will create programs that are de facto religious, causing some parents to reject the programs altogether. This is an argument that misses the point.
The high court’s ruling should be viewed as a possible pathway to help Nevada lawmakers fulfill their constitutional obligation. Article IX, Section 1 of the Nevada Constitution expresses the intent for the government’s involvement in the educational system. It reads:
“A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.”
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