Many students would benefit from the opportunity to attend Catholic or other private schools, but their families cannot afford it. Nebraska is one of only three states in the nation with no school choice policy. Such legislation proposed in our state would create tax incentives to provide scholarship funds so that low-income families can send their children to the school of their choice. MONKEY BUSINESS IMAGES/SHUTTERSTOCK

Commentary

LAUREN GARCIA: Efforts increasing to pass school choice legislation

A few weeks ago, I attended a fundraising luncheon for the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Omaha (CSF). CSF provides partial-tuition scholarships so children from lower-income families can access the private K-8 education of their choice. It was refreshing to be at a big event again, seeing smiling faces and celebrating a good cause. And I was particularly moved by the stories of scholarship recipients who have benefitted from a private school education.

One young woman, with whom I had the privilege of sitting, received an award for recently writing and publishing her own book. This amazing girl was only in seventh grade! In a heart-wrenching video, her mother, who had undergone rigorous cancer treatments, explained through grateful tears that thanks to scholarship funds, she was able to send her two kids to Catholic school where they would receive the care and education she wanted for them. As she was balancing work, graduate school, and treatment, her kids were thriving in school.

While this mom’s story is unique, there are countless parents in similar situations here in Nebraska. They want to find the best educational fit for their children, but if it’s private school, they simply cannot afford it. A child’s education should not be limited or stunted just because of family circumstance, income or ZIP code.

If you’re an avid reader of the Catholic Voice, you have read numerous pleas from the staff of the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), including me, asking for your help advocating for bills like LB364, which would create a tax-credit scholarship program to benefit lower-income families.

I have loved working on the various issues the NCC advocates, including life issues, marriage and family, education and social justice. But I have been so moved by the need for school choice in Nebraska, I have decided to take this issue on full time.

It is not an easy decision to move on from a job I love and an organization that has taught me so much. But the Lord presented a new job opportunity for me to work as the Nebraska State Director for Invest in Kids Nebraska, a project of the American Federation for Children (AFC). AFC seeks to empower families, especially lower-income families, with the freedom to choose the best K-12 education for their children. The NCC has partnered with Invest in Kids Nebraska for the last several years to advance school choice, and the establishment of the state director position is another sign of commitment and investment from AFC.

This year, we came closer than ever to passing school choice legislation. And while 2021 has been a historic year for expanding educational opportunity in the United States, Nebraska remains one of only three states with no such policy. It is time for Nebraska lawmakers to pass legislation to support opportunities for children from lower-income families. I am excited to continue working closely with the NCC and a growing number of advocates to finally bring school choice to Nebraska.

It has been a great joy and honor to serve the wonderful bishops of Nebraska and to work with the faithful and fervent Catholics in our state. Thank you for all that you have taught me. I will, of course, remain an active member of my parish and Catholic community in Lincoln.

Please keep me and the staff at the NCC in your prayers as we advocate for families. If you’d like to learn more about AFC, visit federationforchildren.org.

Lauren Garcia is the former communications and outreach specialist for the Nebraska Catholic Conference. She began her work as the Nebraska state director of the American Federation for Children the first full week of July.