School-choice bill heads to final-round vote

A measure that would allow $10 million a year in direct state funding for private-school scholarships for K-12 students in need has cleared two significant hurdles.

The bill must get past one more round to win passage in the Nebraska Legislature. And the Nebraska Catholic Conference is asking people to help through their prayers and contacting their state senators.

The measure – LB1402 – won two rounds of approval this week and has been scheduled for a final vote next Thursday, April 18, the final day of this year’s legislative session.

LB1402 would eliminate the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which was signed into law last year and is funded by tax credits given to individuals or businesses for donations to scholarship-granting organizations.

The Opportunity Scholarship Act was hailed last year as a historic school-choice victory. But it faced immediate opposition, with foes gathering enough signatures to put it on the ballot this fall for repeal.

LB1402, however, would circumvent an expensive referendum fight, Linehan has said, by eliminating the Opportunity Scholarship Act and removing the controversial tax credit measure. Instead, LB1402 directly allocates funds to scholarship-granting organizations. A direct appropriation, according to state law, would keep it safe from being repealed by a referendum.

Both last year’s Opportunity Scholarship Act and this year’s replacement proposal are aimed at helping children from low-income families, military families or who are in foster care or have experienced bullying.

School choice allows “what’s best for children,” State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn has said.

Linehan, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Elkhorn, sponsored both the Opportunity Scholarship Act and LB1402 and has made school choice a priority during her eight years in the Legislature. 


To win support for this year’s bill, the senator reduced the proposed state funding for the scholarships to $10 million, down from her original plan of $25 million – not an insignificant amount, but a “rounding error” compared to the $1 billion in state funding for public schools approved by the Legislature last year. 

LB1402 ensures “ that every family has educational opportunity … and equity in being able to make educational choices,” Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, has said.

Tom Venzor, executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference

“Every family deserves the opportunity to get to a school that’s best for their kid,” he said. “And that’s what LB1402 is about. It’s about making sure every family has the financial means to get to a school that’s best for them.”

Opportunity Scholarships of Nebraska – one of the new law’s scholarship-granting organizations – has had about 5,000 students express interest in scholarships in its first few months of operation, said Jeremy Ekeler, executive director.

But the need is more than numbers, Ekeler said. It’s about each individual child. 

“So protecting this has become less political and more personal to us. I hope every Nebraskan sees that this is about people’s lives.”

“We can have great public schools and we can give people choice,” he said. “Both of these things can be true.”

Jeremy Ekeler, executive director of Opportunity Scholarships of Nebraska

Ekeler said LB1402 is “an awesome bill because it does what we think the state is compelled to do, which is help vulnerable children find the right education and uses a mechanism that’s different than the tax credit.”

Direct funding from the state would help ensure that children could get scholarships quickly, he said.

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