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School choice a priority for NCC

About 1,000 people, including Catholic school students from the archdiocese, are expected to gather on the steps of the state Capitol in Lincoln Jan. 26 to voice their support for school choice in Nebraska.

The annual rally – this year from 11 a.m. to noon – is sponsored by a consortium of groups supporting school choice, including the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) and the archdiocese’s Catholic Schools Office.

Students, teachers and administrators from 13 archdiocesan schools are among those expected at the rally, as well as several Catholic and Lutheran schools in Lincoln.

And the gathering is one of more than 21,000 rallies, school tours and policy forums around the country marking National School Choice Week, Jan. 22-28.

Speakers will include Gov. Pete Ricketts, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, state senators, parents and students, including eighth-grader Rachel Idra, a girl from Sudan attending All Saints School in Omaha.

Tom Venzor, executive director of the NCC, which represents the public policy interests of Nebraska’s three bishops, said the conference supports a school choice bill this legislative session that is designed to help low- to middle-income children attend parochial and other private schools in the state.

The legislation, LB295, "The Opportunity Scholarship Act," will be brought up in the Revenue Committee by Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, committee chairman.

The bill would give individuals and businesses a 100 percent income tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations, Venzor said. Qualifying students must be entering kindergarten or ninth grade, or transferring from a public school.

"It’s an issue of justice and equity for students and parents," Venzor said. "It should be the right of parents to direct the education of their children in the way they feel is best for their children."

Patrick Slattery, superintendent of the archdiocese’s Catholic schools, echoed that sentiment. "Education is too important to not let parents choose what is best for their child," he said. "This bill would empower more families to have that choice."

Other backers of the bill include the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, which supports 70 schools in Nebraska, and the Platte Institute, a Nebraska think tank, Venzor said.

"The institute conducted a study showing that this bill would result in cost savings to the state within two-to-three years," Venzor said.

Schools from the archdiocese expected at the rally include: St. Boniface and Pope John XXIII Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School, both in Elgin; Omaha Catholic School Consortium members Holy Cross, Our Lady of Lourdes, Ss. Peter and Paul and St. Thomas More, all in Omaha, and St. Bernadette in Bellevue; All Saints, Holy Name, Sacred Heart and St. Bernard in Omaha; St. Mary in Bellevue; and St. Michael in South Sioux City.

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