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Judge rejects petition for Nevada school voucher initiative

AP Photo/Ken Ritter, File
FILE - Protesters for and against a sweeping Nevada school choice program voice their opinions about the measure being argued before the Nevada Supreme Court in Las Vegas on July 29. 2016.

A judge in Carson City has dealt a setback to a group trying to get a school vouchers question before voters in Nevada, ruling that signatures can’t be collected for a proposed constitutional amendment to let parents use state money to pay for private school tuition.

Senior Judge Charles McGee on Monday compared petition wording by the Education Freedom PAC to a shell game that hides “the enormous fiscal impact of this initiative on the budget of most, if not all” schools in Nevada.

“The petition must be invalidated because of lack of clarity of consequences,” McGee wrote.

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Education Freedom PAC leader Erin Phillips, head of the advocacy organization Power2Parent, didn’t immediately promise an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

But she derided McGee’s ruling as “a bizarre, rambling decision” that she said should have come quickly but languished for weeks and ended well beyond what initiative opponents sought by blocking her group from collecting signatures.

Initiative opponents headed by the philanthropic Rogers Foundation, its Chairwoman Beverly Rogers and CEO Rory Reid, filed lawsuits in February aimed at stopping Phillips’ group from trying to collect the almost 141,000 voter signatures needed put two initiatives on the 2022 ballot.

Rogers and Reid argue that Nevada schools are chronically underfunded. The foundation backs a policy organization called Educate Nevada Now.

McGee noted that his ruling affected only a proposed measure to amend the state constitution.

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He has yet to decide on the validity of a proposed initiative aimed at forcing state lawmakers to consider enacting a voucher-style program with the same effect.