School-choice bill advances

Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) officials and other school-choice supporters took time last month to celebrate history – the vote by the Nebraska Legislature’s Revenue Committee advancing a school-choice bill to the full Legislature.

The vote marked the first time a school-choice bill has been advanced out of committee, and Tom Venzor, NCC executive director, noted the significance at a May 23 news conference in the Capitol Rotunda.

Called the Opportunity Scholarships Act, the proposal calls for state income tax credits for individual and corporate donations to scholarship funds used for private schools. The proposal, advanced on a 5-3 committee vote May 18, will be considered for debate when state senators gather again next year.

With the advance of the Opportunity Scholarships Act, lawmakers are telling Nebraskans they are being heard "when it comes to school choice and that empowering low and middle-income families with educational opportunities for their children is important in this state," Venzor said.

Patrick Slattery, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Omaha, said the bill is important because families new to Catholic schools often struggle meeting the costs. "Wealth and luck should not be the determining factors as to who gets a choice in finding the right education for their child," he said.

Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion and Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha were among others joining Venzor for the news conference. Smith, who introduced the bill, said "it’s a good time in Nebraska to have the discussion on the floor of the Legislature next year."

Krist, who first introduced school-choice legislation in 2009, also voiced his support for the current bill.

"It’s been a long time, but things that are very worthwhile usually do take a little bit of time," he said. "Now the tough part starts."

The bill limits the credits to $5,000 for individuals ($10,000 for couples filing jointly) and $50,000 for businesses, and was amended in committee to cap total tax credits at $2 million for 2019, down from the $10 million cap in the original bill. The cap would increase by inflation, plus 20 percent, after each year that 95 percent of the credits were claimed.

In addition to officials with the NCC and the archdiocese, others at the news conference included students from Catholic Schools in Lincoln and representatives of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church.

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