Nebraska nonprofits launch school choice recall petition at State Capitol

Opponents of LB753 worry public education will suffer at the expense of taxpayer dollars.
Nebraska nonprofits have launched a petition drive to repeal the state's new school choice law.
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 4:17 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A coalition of organizations, including public schools groups, began a petition drive Tuesday to ask Nebraskans whether a new law should stay or go.

Support Our Schools Nebraska gathered on the steps of the State Capitol in Lincoln. LB753 is known as the Opportunity Scholarships Act, the school choice bill Gov. Jim Pillen signed into law.

Introduced by State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn at Pillen’s request, the bill authorizes $25 million in tax credits for those who donate scholarships to private schools in Nebraska — one of two states that do not provide such schools with public funds.

“Today is about the kids and families in Nebraska whose lives will be changed thanks to the freedom to attend a school that best fits their needs. It has been my honor and privilege to be part of this effort,” Linehan said in a statement. She has been pushing for school choice for seven years.

Nebraska's new school choice law is already being challenged by a new petition drive.

Pillen said in a statement that the approval of the “Opportunity Scholarship Act” was “a huge is a huge step forward in giving Nebraska parents and students more school choice.”

Rev. Michael Williams of Omaha’s Mount Moriah Church signed the petition first as opponents of the bill gathered on the Capitol steps. Many argue the new law lacks transparency and accountability for private schools -- two tenets of public education.

There’s also a fear that while public schools must accept all students, private schools can pick and choose who they admit.

“Facts are the facts, and the facts are we’re not opposed to parents choosing the educational environment that fits their kids,” said Tim Royers of the Millard Education Association. “But we don’t want public dollars going to private schools. Public dollars need to go to schools that are accredited because under LB753 they don’t have to be accredited to receive this money.”

Organizers hope to gather 90,000 signatures in 90 days. If that happens, the issue would go up for a vote in the November 2024 general election.

Pillen spoke about the bill, saying, “As Nebraskans, we believe we should never, ever give up on a kid. This piece of legislation is part of my continuing commitment to put kids first so we can make our state a place where future generations can grow and thrive.”

“In Arizona, Louisiana, and Virginia -- states with similar programs -- analysis found that more than 60% of the tax credits ended up flowing to families with incomes of more than $200,000 per year,” said Dr. Rebecca Firestone with the OpenSky Policy Institute.

Linehan says she is deeply disappointed, along with 32 other senators who supported the bill, that Nebraska’s public education establishment has pursued the ballot initiative that would, if successful, in her view, deny opportunities to vulnerable and at-risk children. The petition is being circulated throughout the state.