State argues that only real requirement is one school per district and that state standards are simply “aspirational” and cannot be a basis to measure students’ right to a basic education


On Monday, December 6, attorneys representing several parents made their case to the Nevada Supreme Court on behalf of public-school students throughout the state. The oral arguments stem from a complaint filed on March 4, 2020, Shea v. Nevada, challenging the constitutionality of Nevada’s chronically under-resourced public education system. A lower court had previously determined that the case presented issues that are nonjusticiable, or not for courts to decide, leading to Monday’s appeal before the Court. 

Parents argued that this case is in fact justiciable and that Nevada courts have a critical role to play in determining whether the public education system is constitutionally adequate and if students have been denied their right to a quality education. Without court intervention, the condition and quality of our schools will continue to decline, as they have for years. 

To the shock of the parent plaintiffs and their attorneys, the State argued that the court’s hands would be tied even if third grade classrooms were filled with 60 students. The State argued that their only obligation under the Constitution is to have at least one school in each district. Nevada has long been ranked as the state with the largest class sizes in the country.

From The Hearing

: If there are classes in our high schools that have 50 or 60 students is that a basis to challenge whether in fact it is a basic education that is being provided? 

State: As someone who went to a college where I attended classes with hundreds of  students I personally would say no.                                                                             

Justice: I would hope that my 3rd grader wouldn’t be in one of those classes though.

State: I do agree with that. The issue is that those are not constitutionally provided.   

Justice: So it would be constitutional if 3rd graders were 50 or 60 students in a            class?                                                                                                                               

State: I do believe so, yes.                                                                                           

“We could not disagree more than we do,” said pro bono attorney representing the plaintiffs,  Bradley Shrager . “We find (educational standards) to be a positive right of the people of Nevada and school children — a right to a meaningful opportunity to a suitable education because when you say suitable, the point is suitable for what? Suitable for the rest of your life.”

As part of their duty under the constitution, our state has set standards to ensure our students are prepared to enter the adult world and even determined what resources are needed to meet those standards. Unfortunately, the State has wholly failed to provide those essential resources. To come before our courts and argue that 60 third graders in a classroom is basic or sufficient for our students shows how desperately our courts need to intervene and why our schools are in such a crisis. 

There are already 60 students packed in high school classrooms throughout Nevada schools, despite numerous State commissioned studies identifying small class sizes as essential to students meeting state  academic standards.  The state itself has set class size requirements for grades K-3, but 98% of schools do not meet these requirements, with insufficient funding often cited as the primary reason.   

As written in the complaint, “Plaintiffs ask this Court to determine and find that Nevada public education has fallen short of the requirements of the Nevada Constitution in providing the resources necessary to ensure a basic, uniform, and sufficient education for the schoolchildren of this state.” 

Nevada students have a constitutional right to a quality education, but the State has consistently failed in its responsibility to foster a system that delivers on that right. They have an obligation to our students, and they have failed.

Since the original filing more than a year ago, achievement results for students have dropped significantly, teachers continue to struggle in the largest class sizes in the country, and the pandemic has only exacerbated long standing resource issues. Nevada’s deficient education system has deteriorated further, with no clear path out of this ongoing crisis.

“Without the court’s intervention, I see no solution for our students. I’ve spent years of my children’s education advocating on their behalf and the behalf of all students to no avail, and in that time, resources have actually depleted rather than improved,” said Caryne Shea, one of the parent plaintiffs, “I am shocked and outraged at the state’s arguments which undermines and almost belittles the hard work of our educators and students. What our state leadership has done so far has not been effective and now our only hope for significant change lies in the hands of the court.”
Prior to the original filing, Nevada was one of only three states that had not been sued for failure to provide adequate K-12 resources. States like Wyoming, New Jersey, and many others have seen significant improvements in resources and achievement since victories in their lawsuits. 

As the representative for the state said “words do have meaning” and the words from the state made it more clear why the best hope for students is for courts to intervene. 
About Educate Nevada Now

The Rogers Foundation, a Nevada leader in support of public education, joined with local, state and national partners to launch Educate Nevada Now (ENN) in 2015. The organization is committed to school finance reform and improved educational opportunities and outcomes for all Nevada public school children, especially English language learners, gifted and talented students, students with disabilities or other special needs, and low-income students.

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