- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Nevada officials approved another $125,000 for a high-profile outside law firm that’s helping state lawyers defend a voucher-style education program in court, bringing the total payout to the legal team up to $545,000.

The Nevada Board of Examiners voted Tuesday to allow the spending on Bancroft Associates, which is home to former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement. The firm has already received $420,000 from the state to help the Nevada Attorney General’s Office in the much-watched case.

“Is a substantial sum, but in context, it’s actually a bargain,” said attorney general representative Nick Trutanich, who said the services would cost about $1.5 million at the firm’s normal rate. “Essentially, we saved $1 million.”

The Education Savings Account program authorized by Nevada lawmakers last year allows parents to tap public money for private school tuition or other qualified education expenses. Republican legislators have touted it as a groundbreaking initiative to help free students from schools that don’t meet their needs.

Two groups have challenged its constitutionality, and a lower court put the program on hold before any money was disbursed to families. Lawyers argued in late July before the Nevada Supreme Court, which is now deliberating the program’s fate.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, chair of the Board of Examiners, told attorney general representatives at the meeting that he’s been “very supportive” of Education Savings Accounts.

“We’re all awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court. I’m sure you’re as eager as I am to hear the outcome,” he said.

Opponents include the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. The group’s director, Tod Story, said he wondered why the attorney general’s office wasn’t doing the defense in-house.

“I find it interesting that the AG’s office is paying outside counsel to defend a program that takes taxpayer dollars and funnels them to private religious schools,” he said.

Trutanich said Bancroft has helped get the case before the Supreme Court in record time - less than a year after the first legal challenge was filed. He said the attorney general’s office has tried to rein in outside counsel costs in all of its cases, but he couldn’t say for sure that this would be their last request on the school choice case.

“I’m hesitant to say we know without reading the Supreme Court’s opinion,” he said, but added that another request was “highly unlikely.”

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