By Tom Venzor
Throughout Nebraska there are low-income and working-class families who desire to send their child to parochial or private school, but lack the financial means to exercise this educational choice. For example, in 2017, the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Omaha provided 1,803 scholarship opportunities for low-income families to access private or parochial education. Regrettably, they also turned away hundreds of families for lack of scholarship funds. And while our three dioceses and parochial school systems do tremendous work to give every kid a chance at a faith-based education, it is not always financially possible to provide for every student.
Unfortunately, in Nebraska, our state government does nothing to alleviate this injustice for low-income and working-class families. But, this legislative session, we have a unique opportunity to remedy this injustice. By passing LB295, Nebraska can join 18 other states and ensure that a child’s educational choice and opportunity is not controlled by their income level.
Your voice is immediately needed to help advocate for this important legislation that is a priority for the bishops and the NCC. United together, we can remedy the injustice faced by our low-income and working-class families seeking more educational opportunity.
Nuts & Bolts of LB295. LB295 is a legislative bill that enacts a tax credit for private donations to nonprofits that would provide K-12 private-school scholarships for low-income and working-class children. In other words, a person (e.g., individual, corporation, etc.) with income tax liability could provide a donation to a scholarship granting organization, and receive a tax credit (with certain limitations) for their donation. The scholarship granting organization receiving the money gives nearly all the money away to children in the form of scholarships.
LB295 creates an aggregate tax credit “cap” of $2 million in year one, and can increase by 20% annually to a max of $10 million. While the state would forego potential revenue, scholarship tax credit programs have been proven to save the state more money in educational expenses than is relinquished in state revenue through the tax credits.
For example, an Ed Choice study reveals that states with scholarship tax credit programs have saved their taxpayers between $1.7 to $3.7 billion to date. Our own neighbor, Iowa, has saved at least $280 million in taxpayer dollars since the enactment of their scholarship tax credit program in 2006.
Nearly 260,000 children are benefiting from scholarship tax credits in the 18 other states where such programs exist.
Church Teaching. LB295 is wholly consistent with our faith as Christians. As we know, the Church’s teachings are guided by both faith and reason. And, it is faith and reason that teaches that parents are the first educators of their children. Parents have the fundamental right to choose an education for their children that best corresponds to their own convictions. The state, in turn, has the “duty of guaranteeing this parental right and ensuring concrete conditions for its exercise” (CCC, 2229).
As previously stated, current conditions in Nebraska prevent many of our low-income and working-class families from exercising this fundamental right of directing their child’s education, which is ultimately rooted in their God-given human dignity. Such an injustice, then, is an affront to their human dignity.
Yet, the Church calls us to give a “preferential option to the poor” in our daily activities, including our politics. In other words, as Pope Leo XIII stated: “[T]he poor and helpless have a claim to special consideration” (Rerum Novarum, 37). LB295 is a fitting and politically sound policy that ensures low-income and working-class families are given true educational opportunity through our legal system.