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Opportunity Scholarships Act would be transformational

Surrounded by hundreds of school choice advocates, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, chairwoman of the state Legislature’s Revenue Committee, announced the introduction of legislation that would have a transformational effect on thousands of low-income and working-class families. 

The legislation, LB670, known as the Opportunity Scholarships Act, would provide more scholarship opportunities to low-income and working-class families to attend a private or parochial school of their choosing. The legislation produces more scholarship opportunities by offering higher financial incentives – through state income tax credits – to persons who make donations to nonprofit, scholarship-granting organizations.

APRIL’S STORY

Consider April’s story. April is the mother of three children. Two of them attended public schools and received the education that was best for them. Her third child, however, was struggling in her particular educational setting. Knowing her daughter’s needs, April desired to get her into a local parochial school. However, she lacked the financial resources to make this possible.

After speaking with the school, April and her daughter were awarded a scholarship. Here was an opportunity that revealed itself as a blessing from God.

In sharing her story, April explained that the scholarship opportunity her family received was tremendously helpful in keeping her family close together. Rather than having to work an additional second or third job to support her daughter’s education, she is able to be with her daughter and spend the high-quality time that all families need and deserve.

April’s story is important because it responds to an objection that I often hear about giving low-income and working-class families more scholarship opportunities. Opponents often make the claim that families should get their school choice by making the exact same sacrifices their parents made a generation ago. 

While it is unquestionable that everyone should contribute to their children’s education, it is also unquestionable that no parent should have to abandon their family to provide their child with an education that is best for him or her. This is fundamentally unjust and undermines the good of the family. 

Without a scholarship opportunity provided by generous benefactors, April would have had to work multiple jobs to provide her daughter with the best education. To expect this as the norm for families undercuts many immeasurable benefits that we could and should enjoy, such as the spiritual, social, emotional and physical benefits a child receives from the loving presence of parents. 

In addition, this argument also fails to recognize the fundamental tax inequity that parents like April experience. While such families readily contribute to the common good through the tax system, they are unable to experience the benefit of their contributions, as Nebraska offers no opportunity to assist them with school choice.

MORE SCHOLARSHIPS NEEDED

While April and her daughter and so many other families are able to gain access to scholarship opportunities to choose the best education available, this is far from reality for many Nebraska families. 

For example, the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Omaha, which provides scholarship opportunities for families to choose a parochial or private elementary education for their children, serves more than 1,500 students every year. Unfortunately, the fund is unable to assist every student. Year after year, CSF regrettably has to notify hundreds of families that it is unable to provide them financial assistance because of a lack of scholarship funds. 

This is also the situation of many schools, parishes, dioceses and other organizations across our state – and indeed our country. But it does not have to be the case. This legislative session gives Nebraska an exciting opportunity to expand school choice for many students who lack educational opportunity. 

As this session goes forward, we call on all Nebraskans to support LB670. Let your state senator know that this legislation is important to you as you speak on behalf of those who are most in need of educational choice.

Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at tvenzor@necatholic.org.

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