By Tom Venzor
Surrounded by hundreds of school choice advocates, Senator Lou Ann Linehan, chairwoman of the Revenue Committee, announced the introduction of legislation that would have a transformational effect on thousands of low-income and working-class families.
The legislation is LB670, known as the Opportunity Scholarships Act, which provides more scholarship opportunities to low-income and working-class families to attend a private or parochial school of their choosing. The legislation produces more scholarship opportunities by offering higher financial incentives—through state income tax credits—to persons who make donations to non-profit scholarship granting organizations.
Consider April’s Story. April is the mother of three children. Two of her children had an opportunity to attend public schools and receive the education that was best for them. Her third child, however, was struggling in her particular educational setting. Knowing her daughter’s needs, April desired to get her into a local parochial school. However, April lacked the financial resources to make this education possible for her daughter.
After speaking with the parochial school, April and her daughter were awarded a scholarship opportunity to attend the school; an opportunity that revealed itself as a blessing from God.
In sharing her story, April explained that the scholarship opportunity her family received was tremendously helpful to keeping her family close together. Rather than having to work an additional second or third job to support her daughter’s education, April is able to be with her daughter and to spend the quality time that all families need and deserve.
April’s story is important because it responds to an objection that I often hear about giving low-income and working-class families more scholarship opportunities. Opponents often make the claim that families should get their school choice by making the exact same sacrifices their parents made a generation ago.
While it is unquestionable that everyone should contribute to their education, it is also unquestionable that no parent should have to abandon their family to provide their child with an education that is best for him or her. This is fundamentally unjust and undermines the good of the family.
Without a scholarship opportunity provided by generous benefactors, April would have had to work multiple jobs to provide her daughter with the best education. To expect this as the norm for families undercuts many unmeasurable benefits that we could and should benefit from, such as the spiritual, social, emotional, and physical benefits a child receives from loving presence of their parents.
In addition, this argument offered by opponents also fails to recognize the fundamental tax inequity that parents, like April, experience. While such families readily contribute to the common good through the tax system, they are unable to experience the benefit of their contributions as Nebraska offers no opportunity to assist them with school choice.
The Need for More Scholarships. While April and her daughter and so many other families are able to gain access to scholarship opportunities to choose an education that is best their child, this is far from reality for many of Nebraska’s families.
For example, the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Omaha, which exists to provide scholarship opportunities for families for their child to choose a parochial or private elementary education, serves more than 1,500 students every year.
Unfortunately, they are unable to assist every student. Year after year, CSF has to regrettably notify hundreds of families that they are unable to provide them financial assistance because of a lack of scholarship funds.
This is also the situation of many schools, parish, dioceses, and other organizations across our state—and, indeed, our country. But this does not have to be the case. This legislative session gives Nebraska a unique and exciting opportunity to expand school choice for many students who lack educational opportunity.
As this session goes forth, we call on all Nebraskans to support LB670 and to let your state senator know that this is legislation that is important to you as you speak on behalf of those who are most in need of educational choice and freedom.