The Nevada Treasurer’s Office announced Tuesday that it plans to start disbursing money through Education Savings Accounts in February, two months earlier than scheduled, assuming ongoing court battles over the sweeping program don’t put it on hold.
Treasurer Dan Schwartz announced the change at a public regulatory workshop for the broad school choice program, which allows parents to claim most of their child’s per-pupil state education funding — about $5,000 a year — and use it toward private school or other qualified expenses. The original plan was to fund accounts in April, but the office expects to have its information technology and online payment processing systems up and running sooner than that, said Grant Hewitt, the treasurer’s chief of staff.
“As promised, we will do everything in our control to ensure Nevadans have access to their ESA dollars as soon as possible,” Schwartz said in a statement.
The new timeline is pending lawmaker approval at an Interim Finance Committee meeting set for Wednesday.
Schwartz also proposed exempting incoming kindergartners and children of active-duty military personnel from the requirement of attending public school for 100 days before they qualify for the money and can use it at a school of their choice. Those changes are expected to be finalized at a meeting Nov. 19.
Parents in military families thanked Schwartz effusively at Tuesday’s hearing, telling them the flexibility would bring more stability for children who are often forced to change schools every time their parent is assigned to a new base.
“Military life can be difficult on kids, particularly school-year children as they are confronted over and over with being the new kid,” said Julianna Piepkorn, a mother of five and member of the Air Force Reserves who is stationed at Nellis Air Force Base. “Giving us the option to avoid sending our children to multiple schools in the short time they are stationed here truly lightens the stress that comes with relocating every few years.”
The Republican-dominated Nevada Legislature passed a bill on party lines this spring creating the program, which is considered the broadest in the nation because it’s not limited by factors such as family income.
It has already attracted two lawsuits. The American Civil Liberties Union argues the program violates a provision in the Nevada Constitution that prevents the use of public funds for sectarian purposes.
Another lawsuit, filed by former Democratic state Sen. Justin Jones and others, says the program violates a Nevada constitutional provision against using state education funds for anything but public education.
The Nevada Attorney General’s Office filed a motion Monday seeking to dismiss the ACLU lawsuit and arguing that Education Savings Accounts are neutral on religion. That’s up for a court hearing Nov. 25.
No injunction has been issued to put the program on hold, and the treasurer’s office is proceeding forward in processing nearly 3,600 applications.
“Until a judge enters any kind of extraordinary relief, the law requires the treasurer to move forward,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said last week, after a board he chairs approved spending tens of thousands of dollars for implementation. “I don’t think it’s good policy to keep everything in a holding pattern pending what might happen in a court.”
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