In January, Beverly Rogers, wife of late Nevada media mogul Jim Rogers, told 25 students at Reynaldo Martinez Elementary School in north Las Vegas she was launching a new foundation to honor her husband’s memory.
The first act of the Rogers Foundation, she told the kids: each of them would get a full ride to college, as long as they graduated from high school and kept up their grades.
The kids may have been baffled—your average 8-year-old doesn’t know much about nonprofit foundations, and isn’t thinking much more about the price tag of a university education. But the adults around them clearly got the picture. Eyes teared up. Jaws hung open.
A second lawsuit targeting Nevada’s school choice program has been filed—this time from a splashy new nonprofit.
“He gave away hundreds of millions of dollars during his lifetime, and now this continues with Beverly at the helm,” gushed Jim Snyder, a news anchor at the Rogers-owned KSNV-TV. “You’re going to be hearing a lot about this group.”
Indeed, we are.
In early September, Educate Nevada Now, a Rogers Foundation spin-off, announced its own arrival on the nonprofit scene with a similar media splash—a lawsuit aimed at killing Nevada’s expansive school choice program.
ENN’s Sept. 9 lawsuit hit the Nevada media like a late-summer wildfire. That in itself might have accomplished the Rogers Foundation’s real mission—to put ENN on the media map. But the lawsuit is real. It targets the state’s education savings account (ESA) program, an initiative supporters say will give parents—especially poor and working-class parents—the cash they need to act on their choices about schools.
ESAs deposit into a bank account up to 100 percent of what the state would spend on a child’s public school education. Parents can tap that account for education costs they identify on their own: private school tuition, tutoring, therapy, textbooks. Slated to go live in early 2016, ESAs are not open to students already in private schools; proposed regulations would have students attend a public school for at least 100 days before becoming eligible for ESA money.
The ENN suit asserts a catalog of outrages, including the claim that ESAs will subsidize the education of wealthy children and generally produce “serious deleterious effects on Nevada and its children.”
“The voucher statute will also provide a windfall to those who can already afford to send their children to private school. The ~$5,000 voucher subsidy is not enough to cover the full tuition at all but a handful of existing private schools in Nevada. Only those families with the means to make up the significant difference will be able to use the voucher subsidy.”
Just five months old, ENN’s staff page lists only one staff member: an attorney, now ENN policy director, Sylvia Lazos.
The ENN site says Lazos is a law professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, specializing in “how to incorporate norms of diversity into constitutional principles.” Her bio on the UNLV website says Lazos “has written exhaustively on how constitutional norms can accommodate a new American reality that is increasingly multicultural, multiracial, and multiethnic.”
Her critics have pointed to her statement in a legislative hearing in which she reportedly argued that “the state needs to question the assumption that parents make good decisions about their children’s education.”
Lazos said her comment was taken out of context.
“What I said was, we need to question the assumption that all parents have perfect information to make the best choices for their children,” she said. “It’s very difficult to decipher how to make choices.”
Anyone who’s ever been a parent—or a child—knows that parents never have perfect information. But ENN’s lawsuit would deprive parents of poor kids the same opportunity to make decisions about the children’s educations, said Joe McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education.
“Families who can already afford tuition already have a choice and are making that choice,” McTighe said. “In terms of the wealthy, [the ESA] is probably not going to make any difference, because they can already choose a private school for their child or choose a district where the public school is good, and buy a home in that district. For people on the margin, people struggling to make ends meet, $5,000 is going to go a long way.”
A report by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found that average private school tuition in Nevada is $7,664. Tuition ranges widely, from $10 for the least expensive preschool to more than $231,000 for the most expensive high school.
Originally published in Watchdog.org.