In a 6-1 decision issued late last month, the Nevada Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s dismissal of Shea v. State of Nevada, a case in which a number of students and their parents claimed that they were being deprived of the “suitable” education required by Art. XI of the Nevada constitution.
The plaintiffs had cited a number of indices highlighting how the state ranks near the bottom of the nation in public school quality and student performance and 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 had actually been appropriated.
Agreeing with the lower court’s finding that the quality and the funding of education is a “political question” that is not appropriate for judicial consideration, the high court concluded that, “the plain language of Nevada’s education clauses….grant[s] the Legislature broad, discretionary authority to determine public education policy in this state.” The Court noted, however, that it was not deciding whether the current funding system may violate the constitution’s equal protection clause because the plaintiffs had not raised this question.
Justice Cadish, dissenting, wrote that the majority’s decision, “contradicts our precedent regarding the right to a basic education,” the Legislature’s duty to fund that right and this court’s duty to, “read the Nevada Constitution as a whole…” The justice also pointed out that numerous other state courts have found similar cases to be justiciable. In fact, two-thirds of the state courts that have decided school funding cases have held that the issue is justiciable. See, Michael A. Rebell, State Courts and Education Finance: Looking Back and Looking Forward, 6 Edu. L.& Pol’y Rev. 9 (2021).