Last night, the Nebraska Legislature Revenue Committee advanced LB670, the Opportunity Scholarship Act, from committee by a vote of 5-2-1. Senator Lou Ann Linehan, Chair of the Committee, is the bill sponsor and has designated LB670 as her personal priority bill.
What Does LB670 Do?
LB670 would enact a tax credit for donations to nonprofit scholarship granting organizations, which then award private school scholarships to low-income and working-class students. It does not take funds from public schools. When LB670 was introduced, Senator Linehan 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.
Scholarship tax credits 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 scholarships tax credits 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.
What Happened at LB670 Committee Hearing?
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 his 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, shared 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 served in a private school setting. “I was graced with a scholarship to help me afford [my daughter’s] education,” said Garcia. “It’s a great feeling to know that I don’t have to spend additional time away from my daughter at extra jobs [to ensure she is in the best school for her].”
What are Advocates for School Choice Saying?
School choice advocates praised the advancement of LB670—the Opportunity Scholarships Act.
- “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.”
- “The Opportunity Scholarships Act removes barriers to education options for Nebraska’s most vulnerable children, and does so in a way that can increase savings for the state,” said Jim Vokal, Executive Director of the Platte Institute. “The Revenue Committee is also showing a comprehensive vision for Nebraska’s future, advancing Opportunity Scholarships at the same time that it nears completion on its package to rework the education funding system and find hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue for public school districts. These ideas can coexist to provide more ways for young people all across Nebraska to have support and succeed in the right learning environment, no matter their community of residence or family income,”
- “I’ve had the privilege and honor of teaching in Florida and Wisconsin where students have had access to strong education choice programs,” said Bob Ziegler, Director for Education and Youth with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod – Nebraska District. “Adopting the same program that has been successful in 18 other states would be a major step forward for Nebraska. It’s only right that Nebraska empowers parents with their God-given responsibility to direct the education of their children. Nebraska’s Lutheran Schools stand ready to serve those children and families who struggle with poverty in greater numbers in Nebraska when LB670 is passed.”
- “LB670 is a win-win solution for Nebraska students, families, and educators,” said Jessica Shelburn, Nebraska state director for Americans for Prosperity. “This bill ensures more children receive an education best suited for their needs. We applaud the Revenue Committee for advancing this bill and putting the education needs of all Nebraskans first.”
- “Tax credit scholarship programs put power back into the hands of parents, where it belongs,” said Karen Bowling, Executive Director of Nebraska Family Alliance. “Parents know best what type of education will give their children the best opportunity to thrive. A student’s zip code or family income shouldn’t determine where they must be educated. The Revenue Committee has sent a strong message of support to low-income and working-class families across the state.”
- “This is an important day for Nebraska,” said Clarice Jackson of Voice Advocacy Center. “Every child gets one chance at a K-12 education and their educational options should not be limited by their family’s income. There are few better ways to invest in our children and Nebraska’s future than LB670. I appreciate the courageous stand taken by Revenue Committee members to advance this life-changing legislation.”
Credit: Lauren Garcia, Nebraska Catholic Conference Communications Specialist