School choice advocates push for more options in Nebraska

York Elementary students work on reading (NTV News)

Middle and low income families could find it easier to send kids to private school in Nebraska.

That could happen if the legislature approves tax credits, for those who put money towards scholarships.

LB 295 will carry over into the next session, allowing corporate and individuals to do just that.

Katie Linehan of Educate Nebraska said, “The state is giving up initially giving up some revenue in the form of a tax credit, but because the state would save a lot of money in giving kids more options, including private options, there's actually a significant return to the state.”

Linehan along with Matt Litt of Americans for Prosperity say the full legislature has never debated school choice, but this bill by Sen. Jim Smith gives them hope.

Litt said, “Modern school choice mechanisms to give families more opportunities for their kids hasn't been discussed and we're excited about that opportunity this upcoming session.”

“And I think it speaks to demand. Parents in Nebraska want more choices and opportunities, every child is different, not every school is the right fit for a kid,” Linehan added.

But the teachers’ union says it comes at the expense of public schools.

Maddie Fennell, executive director of the Nebraska State Education Association said, “Nebraskans very strongly support their public schools and they quite honestly, we're struggling to support the public school system and Nebraskans are not interested in funding two separate systems.”

Fennell attended Catholic school as a kid, but says it her parents’ choice.

“And their choice that they paid for it,” she said.

She says families do have options.

“We have open enrollment, and where positions are available we allow kids to switch between schools which is one of the strengths of our state,” Fennell said.

School choice advocates say the state can do better, and tax credits for those funding scholarships would open new opportunities.

Matt Litt said, “What we want at the end of the day is high quality options for families across the state, not matter what education option they choose.”

The bill has been supported by the Nebraska Catholic Conference, Platte Institute, Lutheran schools and others. Opponents include Nebraska Association of School Boards, Nebraska State Education Association, and Greater Nebraska Schools Association (which includes the tri-cities schools among others).

Clearly both sides have very different views.

Governor Pete Ricketts has spoken in favor of school choice. It remains to be seen what the legislature will do.

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