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Nebraska private school students gather inside the state Capitol rotunda in Lincoln Jan. 24 for the annual school choice rally, sponsored by School Choice Nebraska. Students wore yellow scarves to promote the bill LB670, the Opportunity Scholarships Act, which would establish tax credits for donations to nonprofit scholarship-granting organizations. COURTESY PHOTO

Opportunity Scholarships Act announced at school choice rally in Lincoln

For the Catholic Church, providing a high-quality education where every child can succeed is not merely a matter of equity, but one of social justice. 

That’s why Catholics from across the state show up in force for the annual school choice rally, the culminating event of National School Choice Week. This year’s rally, held Jan. 24 at the state Capitol in Lincoln, gave young people the chance to advocate for the array of opportunities afforded at their schools.

 “The Nebraska School Choice Week aims to raise awareness about K-12 education options available to families in communities across Nebraska,” said Deb Portz, director of School Choice Nebraska. “The rally celebrates all types of effective K-12 options for children including traditional public schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning and home education.” 

Six schools from the Archdiocese of Omaha sent students to Lincoln to participate in the rally, including Roncalli Catholic High School, Our Lady of Lourdes, All Saints, Sacred Heart, Holy Name, and St. Thomas More.

At this year’s rally, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan announced the Opportunity Scholarships Act (LB670). This legislation would establish a tax credit for donations to nonprofit scholarship-granting organizations, allowing low-income and working-class students more opportunities to receive scholarships to private schools. 

Last year’s version of the bill, LB295, advanced to the first round of debate but fell victim to a filibuster and was later derailed due to differences over education funding.  

“I believe it’s a very smart construction because the bill maximizes the system that we know is working. Children’s Scholarship Fund is already sending hundreds and hundreds of kids to tuition-bearing schools with their program,” said Michael Ashton, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Omaha, who attended the rally.

“There are children on wait lists with Children’s Scholarship Fund,” he said. “Because it’s a lottery system, they only have a certain amount of money to give to these scholarships, so there are plenty of families that don’t get chosen on that lottery.”

 “If we’re able to get this incentivized funding and increase funding for organizations like that, we could really chew away at that number of families who want a choice but don’t have the money to make a choice,” he said.   

Roncalli Catholic President Ann O’Connor said that the bill “would allow private education to be more accessible to all students and allow each student the ability to choose an education that best fits their needs.  Choosing a school that best fits their needs would make a significant difference in the life of the student as well as increase the likelihood of success of each student.”

O’Connor stressed that the bill would grant economically disadvantaged families the same opportunities for high-quality education, a right which should be afforded to everyone. 

Three seniors from Roncalli spoke at the rally about their experiences in the Career Academy, a partnership of the school with Metropolitan Community College in which students work toward an associate degree while still in high school. One of these students, Cameron Adams, talked about how the Career Academy is helping him get a head start in high school and allowing him to build skills that he will need in his future career. 

Adams also addressed the problem of students’ options being limited by their families’ incomes: “It’s very important that we take notice and kids are able to get the proper education they deserve,” he said. “It was cool to see that major Nebraska legislative members took notice to this problem (too).”

Some elected state officials in attendance were Gov. Pete Ricketts, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley and state Sen. Joni Albrecht. Ricketts signed a proclamation at the rally proclaiming National School Choice Week.

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