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Venzor: A choice that could change kids’ lives

“I know this bill will allow for more students with similar stories as mine to have a choice in their education, a choice that could change their lives.”

These were Jacob Idra’s closing remarks during a recent Revenue Committee hearing on LB670, the Opportunity Scholarships Act. The legislation would provide more private education choice for low-income and working-class families in Nebraska.

Jacob is a freshman at Creighton University. When he’s not lighting up a room with his smile and his fashionable attire, he’s studying business. But his story begins long before Creighton; it starts in Africa.

When Jacob was around 3 years old, he and his family departed Africa as refugees. They were on exodus, bound for “the land of the free,” in search of opportunity and new beginnings. And though the final moments in their motherland were filled with emotion and tears, Jacob was reassured by his father’s loving words: “Everything will be OK.”

Awaiting Jacob’s arrival in the United States was the blessing of a Catholic education. He enrolled in All Saints School in Omaha and then was accepted into high school at Mount Michael Benedictine School in Elkhorn. While Jacob’s parents worked tirelessly to make his education possible, they were also blessed by scholarship opportunities. 

Despite the generous financial assistance at Mount Michael, Jacob wished to transfer to public school during his freshman year. He desired to join his friend at Omaha South High School to pursue a basketball state championship – but also to eliminate the financial burden of his private education.

To this, Jacob’s father responded with words he had repeated countless times before: “Ny tha asci sookeru ga” (“Keep your focus on school”). He reminded Jacob that money was not life’s defining factor and that he brought him to America to provide him with the best possible education.

While I had never met Jacob’s father until the day of the public hearing, I knew him. I had seen him many times before, in and through my own father. Jacob’s father is a man who observes the world in silence. If spoken to, he speaks few words.

Perhaps in part it’s because his English isn’t the greatest, but mostly it’s because he observes the world in thanksgiving and admiration. And that admiration takes on full life when directed at his son. His world hinges on somebody other than himself. His life, you might say, is defined by sacrifice and creating opportunity for his son.

Ensuring Jacob had the right education was essential to his father’s journey to America. And Jacob knew this. He continued his education at Mount Michael, and now is in his second semester at Creighton – once again, blessed by scholarships.

Though Jacob has been blessed, he knows many other students in Nebraska lack the same opportunities. He knows not every student receives a scholarship to attend a private or parochial school. He knows the financial assistance is insufficient to meet the demand of all the kids knocking on the doors of private and parochial schools across Nebraska.

That’s why Jacob made the journey to Lincoln. He came to speak for those students “who are less fortunate” and want more educational opportunity, because education is “our one-way ticket out of the struggle and into a better life.” He came to make his case as to why Nebraska needs to invest in kids by adopting scholarship tax credit legislation, which would financially incentivize more scholarships for low-income and working-class students, allowing them to attend the school best suited to their educational needs.

Now the opportunity is ours to make our case to our state lawmakers, to raise our voices on behalf of those less fortunate. It is our chance to live out the call of Matthew 25:40 (“Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me”). Don’t wait – act!

To learn more about LB670 and scholarship tax credit legislation, visit www.necatholic.org or www.investinkidsnebraska.org. At these websites you can find information about the legislation and how to contact your state senator and ask them for support. God bless your efforts!

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

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