Nevada is one of only five states where no court case challenging the state’s education finance system has yet been decided. A case challenging Nevada’s education finance system, Shea vs. State, was filed in March 2020.
Guinn v. Angle : Schools Take Priority over Procedural Requirement
An impasse over school funding in 2003 prompted the governor (Kenny Guinn) to ask the Nevada Supreme Court to order the legislature to appropriate biennial school funding for the 2003-05 school years. A voter-approved constitutional amendment in Nevada requires a two-thirds majority in each house of the legislature for any revenue generating measure. Attempts to pass a revenue bill failed in 2003, and, therefore, the legislature did not pass the measure authorizing school funding expenditures.
The state supreme court held that:
The framers [of the constitution] have elevated the public education of the youth of Nevada to a position of constitutional primacy [and,] as a matter of  substantive constitutional law,  public education must be funded. . . .If the procedural two-thirds revenue vote requirement in effect denies the public its expectation of access to public education, then the two-thirds requirement must yield to the specific substantive educational right.
The court ordered the legislature to “proceed expeditiously . . . under simple majority rule” rather than the two-thirds rule, which resolved the impasse almost immediately.
In subsequent appeals, the Nevada Supreme Court reaffirmed its decision and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
In October 2015, Judge James Wilson of the First Judicial District Court of Nevada (Carson City) issued a preliminary injunction, Lopez v. Schwartz , that prohibited the state from implementing its recently-enacted school voucher law (SB 302).
SB 302 authorized the State Treasurer to use public funds to establish Education Savings Accounts (ESAs.) Funds in these accounts would have been used to fund private school tuition, tutoring, home schooling and transportation. The Court held that Art. XI §§ 6.1 and 6.2 require that all funds appropriated for the public schools must be used for public schools only, and that the Education Savings Accounts would be diverting public school funds to non-public school purposes.”
In March 2020, a group of parents and students filed Shea vs. State against the State of Nevada, the Superintendent of Public Education, and State Board of Education in the First Judicial District Court in Carson City, Nevada. Plaintiffs allege that students are being deprived of a sufficient education as required by Article XI of the State Constitution, citing a number of indices highlighting how the state ranks near the bottom of the nation in public school quality and student performance. They further allege that the state has ignored the findings of cost studies authorized in both 2006 and 2018, which found that base per-pupil spending should be at least $3,000 higher for the 2020-21 school year than what has currently been appropriated.
In October, 2020, Carson City District Court Judge James Wilson dismissed the complaint, holding that it raised “nonjusticiable legal questions” and that the “education clause in the Nevada Constitution is aspirational and does not guarantee an education of a particular quality or quantity…” In May, 2022, the state Supreme Court affirmed this ruling.
Last Updated: November 2020