Providing justice through educational opportunity
April 18, 2019
Throughout Nebraska there are low-income and working-class families who desire to send their child to parochial or private school, but lack the financial means to exercise this educational choice.
For example, in 2017 the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Omaha provided 1,803 scholarship opportunities for low-income families to access private or parochial education. Regrettably, they also turned away hundreds of families for lack of scholarship funds. And while our three dioceses and parochial school systems do tremendous work to give every kid a chance at a faith-based education, it is not always financially possible to provide for every student.
Unfortunately, in Nebraska, our state government does nothing to alleviate this injustice for low-income and working-class families. But this legislative session, we have a unique opportunity to remedy this injustice. By passing LB295, Nebraska can join 18 other states and ensure that a child’s educational choice and opportunity is not controlled by their income level.
Your voice is immediately needed to help advocate for this important legislation, which is a priority for the bishops and the NCC. United, we can remedy the injustice faced by our low-income and working-class families seeking more educational opportunity.
NUTS AND BOLTS OF LB295
LB295 is a legislative bill that enacts a tax credit for private donations to nonprofits that would provide K-12 private-school scholarships for low-income and working-class children. In other words, a person (for example, an individual, corporation, etc.) with income tax liability could provide a donation to a scholarship granting organization, and receive a tax credit (with certain limitations) for their donation. The scholarship-granting organization receiving the money would give nearly all the money away to children in the form of scholarships.
LB295 creates an aggregate tax credit “cap” of $2 million in the first year, which can increase by 20 percent annually to a maximum of $10 million. While the state would forego potential revenue, scholarship tax credit programs have been proven to save the state more money in educational expenses than is relinquished in state revenue through the tax credits.
For example, an EdChoice study reveals that states with scholarship tax credit programs have saved their taxpayers between $1.7 billion to $3.7 billion to date. Our own neighbor, Iowa, has saved at least $280 million in taxpayer dollars since the enactment of their scholarship tax credit program in 2006.
Nearly 260,000 children are benefiting from scholarship tax credits in the 18 other states where such programs exist.
LB295 is wholly consistent with our faith as Christians. As we know, the church’s teachings are guided by both faith and reason. And, it is faith and reason that teaches that parents are the first educators of their children. Parents have the fundamental right to choose an education for their children that best corresponds to their own convictions. The state, in turn, has the “duty of guaranteeing this parental right and ensuring concrete conditions for its exercise” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2229).
As previously stated, current conditions in Nebraska prevent many of our low-income and working-class families from exercising this fundamental right of directing their child’s education, which is ultimately rooted in their God-given human dignity. Such an injustice, then, is an affront to their human dignity.
Yet, the church calls us to give a “preferential option to the poor” in our daily activities, including our politics. In other words, as Pope Leo XIII stated: “The poor and helpless have a claim to special consideration” (“Rerum Novarum,” no. 37). LB295 is a fitting and politically sound policy that ensures low-income and working-class families are given true educational opportunity through our legal system.
MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD
As Pope Benedict XVI stated, the church “cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.” Each of us is called to make our voice heard, especially on behalf of those who struggle to speak up for themselves.
Please contact your state senator and graciously ask him or her to support LB295. You can find your state senator’s contact information at www.nebraskalegislature.gov. If you need assistance or have questions, contact the Nebraska Catholic Conference (402-477-7517 or email@example.com). God bless your efforts!
Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.