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Midlands Voices: Nebraska is behind neighboring states in bolstering school choice
Midlands Voices

Midlands Voices: Nebraska is behind neighboring states in bolstering school choice

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Nebraska State Capitol dome teaser (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy)

The Nebraska State Capitol.

On Wednesday, my colleagues and I will debate LB 364, the Opportunity Scholarships Act. Through an amendment, the bill also includes LB 531 , which provides a $5 million tax credit for child care, including for public schools. If Nebraska truly wants to be a state that prioritizes every child and expanding opportunity for all, we must pass this legislation.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Nebraska has among the largest achievement gaps in the nation between Black and White students. In 2019, Black fourth graders in Nebraska were 31 points behind White fourth graders in reading. Ten points equates to roughly one year of learning.

As Nebraska struggles to address such disparities in outcomes, all but three states have passed school choice policies, including tax credit scholarship programs, which exist today in Kansas, South Dakota, Iowa and elsewhere. For several years, I have prioritized such legislation, including this year’s Opportunity Scholarships Act, LB 364.

LB 364 provides a tax credit to donors to nonprofit scholarship-granting organizations, such as the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Omaha, which this year alone turned away 500 families. Donors can contribute up to 50% of their state income tax liability. The credit is capped at $5 million annually, which is .005% of what the state spends each year on K-12 public schools. It does not take funds from public schools.

Some opponents falsely claim this benefits the wealthy. They are either misinformed or purposely attempting to mislead. A contributor cannot make money from their donation, as those funds would otherwise be owed to the state. Only children from families who qualify for free or reduced lunch are eligible. Therefore, the only people who profit are the families who could not otherwise afford the cost to attend a non-public school.

This is a privilege the wealthy and middle class already enjoy. Their children benefit from the family’s ability to pay for tuition or, like my family did, consider the public school options when deciding where to live. In America, a child’s opportunity for an education should not be determined by a family’s income or ZIP code.

Every year, the evidence and research on choice programs continues to prove the effectiveness of these policies, including improved academic and life outcomes for participants. There is also strong public support for school choice. According to a poll released just this month by Real Clear Opinion Research, 71% of voters back school choice, including 66% of public school parents.

Twenty-six studies have examined the impact of private school choice programs on students in surrounding public schools. Twenty-four found positive effects, one found neutral, and only one found negative effects. Private school students reported less discrimination and bullying, including of LBGT+ students. Finally, out of 55 empirical studies of the fiscal impact, 49 found that the programs saved the state money. Four found that they were revenue neutral.

I will continue to fight for expanding educational opportunities in Nebraska. I know that all children learn differently. I’ve heard stories from children who have been bullied in their assigned school but could not afford another option. I also know that scholarship programs have proven to benefit the children who participate and those who remain in their public district schools. The Opportunity Scholarships Act and the tax credit for child care would benefit local communities through improved academic and life outcomes of our citizens and would not increase the tax burden for hardworking Nebraskans.

I urge you to encourage your state senator to join me in fighting for children and families. Ask them to put opportunity for all ahead of the special interests that have worked so hard to prevent educational freedom in Nebraska.

Lou Ann Linehan, of Elkhorn, represents District 39 in the Nebraska Legislature. She is chairwoman of the Revenue Committee.

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