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Matthew Nielsen: Nebraska is far behind in embracing school choice

Matthew Nielsen: Nebraska is far behind in embracing school choice

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The writer, a former Omaha resident, is board president at the Educational Freedom Institute, headquartered in Phoenix.

School choice has been a hotly contested issue in Nebraska politics for several years. Special interest groups, politicians and unions all have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the state of education in Nebraska, but no one has more interest than parents and the students themselves — all 367,000 of them.

Nebraska’s lawmakers have managed to stop every effort to begin school choice programs for families. Private schools, with their various programs, curricula and specializations, are not options for low-income families, regardless of interest or ability.

Education savings accounts, tax-credit scholarships, charter schools and school tuition organizations (STOs) are programs that give families a variety of educational choices for their children — options that many states have implemented with great success. For example, Arizona and Florida are widely considered to be two of the most progressive states when it comes to educational options. They tend to spend less per pupil, but their students outperform many other states that spend much more.

Creating more options for families has been opposed primarily by individuals and groups who argue that Nebraska’s district schools would suffer financially. State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of the Elkhorn area has pointed out that Legislative Bill 1202, rather than removing revenues from the state’s district schools, would simply provide a tax credit for taxpayers who choose to make that election.

Further, it’s not clear that the school districts across the state would change course and direct current or future funds into the classroom, despite the union leadership’s continuous calls for more money to pay teachers. The state of Nebraska increased per-pupil spending by 40% between 1992 and 2014, but during that time, teachers saw only 7% of that go to their salaries.

LB 1202 hasn’t made any headway since it was first introduced in the Legislature. Nebraskans can expand opportunities for children that can make a meaningful difference in their lives for years to come. Voters should communicate to their legislators that they want true educational freedom for all children.

Too many elected officials argue and vote against measures that would allow low-income families to choose the educational options that best meet their needs. Legislators and other government officials have taken an active role in fighting against choice, even while they take advantage of school choice for their own children.

Government officials who prevent school choice for everyone but those who can afford it are doing a disservice to the children of Nebraska.

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