School Choice and the Call for Joyful Perseverance
May 12, 2023
My previous column in February, “Live from the Capitol, It’s School Choice,” was a real-time commentary from the hearing of LB753, the Opportunity Scholarships Act. In the weeks since, Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), has communicated brief updates on this bill as the session has plodded through an insufferable filibuster. Today, however, I present an in-depth look at history in the making as the Opportunity Scholarships Act nears anticipated final passage.
What’s occurred? What’s about to happen? What’s next? Let’s dig into it!
As a quick refresher, LB753 provides $25M per year in tax credits to donors who charitably give to a scholarship-granting organization (SGO). The SGOs then turn this money into scholarships for students to attend a nonpublic school. SGOs must give priority preference to the most vulnerable students: those below 100% poverty, in the foster system, the child of a military service member, children with special needs and those who have been bullied.
On March 8, for the first time in Nebraska history, 33 green lights appeared on the legislative chamber vote board in favor of school choice: a supermajority of state senators – 33 of 49 – voted to send the Opportunity Scholarships Act on to the second of three rounds of debate! I am not ashamed to say that the tears of joy flowed when bulb 33 went green; it was momentous.
The NCC used the following weeks to work feverishly on an amendment to solidify support and strengthen the bill. That amendment did its job, and on April 13, LB753 received 34 votes, sending it to a final reading that will take place in the coming days.
What happened on March 8 was history, and what occurred on April 13 brought us one step closer to being the 50th state to have passed a form of school choice (North Dakota recently passed school choice, but the Governor vetoed the bill). Now, in the final days of the session, we anticipate the final reading passage and history in the making as we send LB753 to Governor Pillen for his enthusiastic signing.
However, the public school teachers union has begun to make promises of a ballot referendum. In short, the public school establishment is threatening to halt Opportunity Scholarships for poor and vulnerable students through a multi-million-dollar blockade effort. This powerplay prioritizes systems over vulnerable students and public school dominance over the rights of parents to choose the best setting for their children.
We call all who put children’s best interests ahead of divisive politics to advocate in both the immediate and the long term. Your voices, your support and your prayers are vital so that families in Nebraska have rights like those in nearly every other state. Furthermore, as we see dozens of states expand choice and many move to fully universal choice (every student can choose the best school for them), we must acknowledge that Nebraska hasn’t gotten out of the starting gate even as other states are laps ahead in their work to put kids first.
I close with a personal anecdote that sums up the call to action. I was recently driving to work and feeling the weight of expectation and anticipation for LB753. I was also lamenting the harmful ballot referendum strategy being formed by public school entities. At a red light, I suddenly realized that I was ignoring the words of Sister Miriam James on my Hallow app. As she unfolded the life of Saint Joseph, Sister Miriam directed that the next few minutes of silence should be used to listen to the voice of “the head of the Holy Family.”
Friends, moments later, these words surfaced from within my heart: “Be joyful in perseverance.”
That has become my call to action, and I share this story with you as your call to action. It comes not from me; it comes from Saint Joseph.
May the “terror of demons, cornerstone of families, and zealous defender of Christ” inspire us all to joyful perseverance as we advocate for and support the rights of families to choose the best education for their children.
Jeremy Ekeler is associate director of Education Policy for the Nebraska Catholic Conference. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.