Diocesan News

School choice bill advances from committee

LINCOLN (NCC/SNR) – The Nebraska Catholic Conference is celebrating the advancement of LB670, the Opportunity Scholarships Act, from the Nebraska Legislature’s Revenue Committee to General File for debate by the entire Legislature. LB670 was advanced by a vote of 5-2-1.

LB670 would enact a tax credit for donations to nonprofit scholarship granting organizations, which would then award private school scholarships for low-income and working-class students. When LB670 was initially introduced this year, Senator Lou Ann Linehan—introducer of LB670 and Chairwoman of the Revenue Committee—explained that while many children already enjoy privately-funded scholarships to attend private school, organizations like Children’s Scholarship Fund of Omaha turn away hundreds of qualified students a year due to lack of funds.

“We see the need every day in our schools across the state,” said Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference. “There are more kids who knock on our doors than there are scholarships available. LB670 provides a smart solution to this unfortunate problem. By advancing this bill from Revenue Committee, Nebraska is one step closer to advancing true educational freedom for parents and children across the state.”

Scholarship tax credit programs already exist in 18 other states—including in the neighboring states of Iowa, South Dakota, and Kansas. Research analyzing scholarship tax credit programs have revealed numerous public policy benefits. Studies have demonstrated that scholarship tax credit programs across the country have saved states at least $1.7 billion. A recent analysis by the Iowa Department of Revenue concluded that Iowa’s tax-credit scholarship program, which was enacted in 2006, achieves net state savings of about $12 million annually.

Numerous studies have also demonstrated that education choice programs like LB670 improve the educational outcomes of students participating in the program and improve outcomes for students who remain in public schools.

During the March 7 public hearing on LB670, Jacob Idra—a former student of All Saints Elementary School in Omaha and a graduate of Mount Michael Benedictine High School in Elkhorn—shared about his journey as a refugee from Egypt in 2003. Idra spoke about his parents’ countless sacrifices to help make a private school education attainable, but also said that education would not have been possible without scholarship assistance.

Idra testified not only for himself, he said, but for those “less fortunate” students seeking the school of their choice. He noted that for students like him “[e]ducation could potentially be [a] one-way ticket out of the struggle and into a better life.”

In addition to Idra, April Garcia testified at the public hearing on LB670. Garcia, whose daughter receives a scholarship to attend Christ Lincoln School, spoke about having a child attend both public and private schools. While appreciative for her daughter’s experience in public school, Garcia said she became increasingly aware that her daughter’s educational needs would be better met in a private school setting.

“I love my daughter and would do anything in the world for her, including working two or three jobs to ensure that she receives the best education and opportunity to learn and to flourish,” Garcia said. “I was graced with a scholarship to help me afford her education…it’s a great feeling to know that I don’t have to spend additional time away from my daughter at extra jobs.”

The Opportunity Scholarships Act will benefit countless parents like Garcia and students like Idra in Nebraska for years to come. Because of its great importance, Senator Linehan previously designated LB670 as her personal priority bill for the 2019 legislative session, which guarantees that the legislation can be debated by the entire Nebraska Legislature. Last year marked the first time in at least 25 years that a school choice bill was debated by the entire Legislature.

To learn more about scholarship tax credits and LB670, visit investinkidsnebraska.org.

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