Nebraska lawmakers debate bill proposing $25M in tax credits to private school donors

Nebraska legislators debated a bill today that would allow private school donors to receive a tax break.
Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 4:27 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska lawmakers debate a bill that would create a tax break for those who donate to private schools.

It’s part of a “school choice bill” supported by Gov. Jim Pillen.

Nebraska is one of two states that does not provide some public dollars for private schools.

“The state will soon be delivering $2.6-2.7 billion to public education in Nebraska,” said Sen. Tom Briese of Albion. “And what are our opponents of 753 complaining about? $25 million.”

In January the governor gathered a number of students in the rotunda to tout the plan.

LB753 is the Opportunity Scholarships Act, a bill that would set aside $25 million for tax credits when one donates to private school scholarships.

“I was one of those students from first grade to high school where I was told I’d never go to college, wasn’t smart enough,” said Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn. “Was put in special ed because I was dyslexic. So this comes very much from the heart.”

Sen. Linehan is the bill’s sponsor and says the tax credits would be prioritized for new students who qualify as low-income.

School choice dominated debate again today on the legislative floor.

“We are not giving money to private schools. We are giving money to children and their parents so they have options.”

But some lawmakers question the logic of the proposal, saying private schools don’t have the same transparency as public schools.

“There is a reason the state constitution says that no state funds shall be used for religious institutions,” said Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha. “It’s because state dollars should not be used for that form of indoctrination.”

“To say this bill does not have public funds going to private schools is to oversimply the issue,” said Sen. George Dungan of Lincoln. “The bill absolutely does affect the bottom line.”

While the bill would set aside $25 million for tax credits in the first year, experts predict the program would grow to $39 million two years later.

“Nobody can tell me that choice isn’t wanted in my community,” said Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha. ”When I was on the school board, I was against this and that. After 12 years of try to figure it out, my community just wants an option.”

Gov. Pillen issued a statement following Monday morning’s debate saying the bill is part of a package, and that failing to pass it will “jeopardize funding for all Nebraska students.”