By Ken Ritter
LAS VEGAS — An advocacy group is going to court to force the state to put more money into classrooms, filing a lawsuit Wednesday accusing Nevada education officials of chronically under-funding overcrowded and low-performing public schools.
The suit filed in state court with backing from Educate Nevada Now asks a judge to underscore Nevada Supreme Court findings that education is a basic state constitutional right and to declare current budgeting insufficient to ensure classroom success.
“Anyone who has followed education policy in Nevada … knows this lawsuit has been a long time coming,” said Bradley Schrager, an attorney handling the lawsuit for Educate Nevada Now. The group is an offshoot of the philanthropic Rogers Foundation in Las Vegas.
Schrager said the judge should “set appropriate mandates … for providing the resources necessary for schoolchildren to succeed.”
State schools Superintendent Jhone Ebert and officials at the state Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit. It also names the state Board of Education as a defendant.
Monica Moazez, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Aaron Ford, declined to comment.
The filing came a year ahead of the 2021 Nevada Legislature and seven weeks after the Clark County Education Association, the union representing 19,000 Las Vegas-area teachers, announced a pair of initiative drives aimed at raising money for schools.
One, filed by the Nevadans for Fair Gaming Taxes political action group, would hike taxes on the largest casinos in the state to raise as much as $315 million a year for the state treasury.
The other, by the political action group Fund Our Schools, would increase the school support tax by 1.5% — pushing sales taxes to nearly 9.9% in Las Vegas and Clark County. School support tax money is already earmarked for education and provides almost half of state public school funding, the union said. Nevada has no state income tax.
The lawsuit filed in Carson City District Court drew immediate praise from state teachers’ union chief Brian Rippet and a promise that the Nevada State Education Association will file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the seven women, two men and 12 children cited as plaintiffs.
Nevada “places near the top of every ‘bad’ list, and the bottom of every ‘good’ list, in myriad rankings of public schools systems and student performance across the country,” the lawsuit declares. It cites recent reports by Education Week, Making the Grade and Children’s Advocacy Alliance.
“Nevada has the third largest class sizes,” the court document says, and ranked first in a National Education Association measure of class size growth.
The state Education Department’s online accountability portal says the statewide graduation rate has improved to 83%, the highest ever and up a little under 10% from 2017.
The Rogers Foundation was founded in 2013 by former regional TV broadcast mogul Jim Rogers and his wife, Beverly Rogers. Jim Rogers served as interim chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education before his death in 2014.