Nebraska Legislature spars again over public-private school choice

School choice dominated debate in the Nebraska Legislature for a second day today.
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 4:45 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - School choice dominated debate at the Unicameral again today.

“We’ve got a whole bunch of stuff going on in public schools that’s not okay, and every time we even try to look at it, we get chased away from it,” said Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn.

LB753 would set aside $25 million for tax credits for those who donate scholarships to private schools. That figure would grow to $100 million in a few years.

Supporters say it would give low-income public school students an option to upgrade to private schooling.

“It’s a false narrative that we’re giving tax breaks to the rich because what they’re doing is either writing a check to the state for taxes, or to the private schools,” said Sen. Mike Jacobsen of North Platte. “They’re still spending the money.”

“Charity is supposed to be a gift that you give without expecting a return,” said Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington. “Charity isn’t supposed to be a gift that you get 100% of it back. It’s not charity anymore then.”

Some senators say the proof is in test scores.

“Nebraska non-public schools score a 23.2 on the ACT, about four points higher than your average public school,” said Sen. Rick Holdcroft of Bellevue. “Private schools do much better.”

“They don’t get better test scores because they’re better schools,” said Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh. “They get better test scores because they exclude students who they think aren’t going to get those high test scores.”

Opponents say private schools play by different rules -- and in some cases discriminate based on religion.

“We fund Nebraska Opportunity grants. These are public dollars that go to private higher-education institutions,” said Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas. “The difference is those institutions receive federal funds and have to comply with anti-discrimination laws. These private and parochial K-12 schools aren’t required to.”

Some senators argued that parents frustrated with their local school simply want an alternative they can afford.

“It seems like the only option kids have moving from school to school were those who are wealthy could punt, pass or kick, or they had someone in the family who was elected.”

Right now, 36,000 Nebraskans attend private schools.