State senator says referendum to repeal school choice measure is unconstitutional
January 12, 2024
The Nebraska state senator who introduced and personally prioritized the Opportunity Scholarship Act is questioning the constitutionality of a referendum to repeal the historic school choice measure, which won approval from the Legislature last year.
State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn has asked Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen to reject the repeal effort, saying in a Jan. 8 letter to Evnen that only the Legislature has the power to set and regulate taxation, as set forth in the State Constitution.
“Nebraska’s constitution explicitly places the power of taxation in the hands of the Legislature,” Linehan wrote. “While I respect the petition process including the power of referendum, if this existing revenue measure adopted by the Legislature can be repealed by referendum, the ability to set revenue policy would be undermined.”
LB753, the Opportunity Scholarship Act, was approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jim Pillen in May. Days later, an effort was launched to repeal LB753 through a ballot initiative. In October, Evnen’s office confirmed that enough signatures had been gathered to place the referendum before voters in the 2024 general election in November.
Linehan’s challenge could keep the measure off the ballot, however.
The Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) has backed school choice, especially for students whose families otherwise couldn’t afford the option of a private-school education.
Tom Venzor, NCC executive director, said of Linehan’s letter: “If this argument is successful, school choice would be protected from being placed on the ballot and remain in legal effect. This means thousands of families in need would be guaranteed educational freedom.”
“As you know, anti-education freedom efforts to repeal the Opportunity Scholarship Act have been underway since its passage in May and threaten the future of school choice,” Venzor wrote to NCC supporters.
Evnen has sought a response from those seeking the repeal and said he hopes to decide on the matter soon.
“While opponents of school choice have been invited to provide input on the matter,” Venzor said, “we anxiously await Secretary Evnen’s response.”
“As always, please join us in fervent prayer for the protection of school choice in Nebraska, for children and families, and for the first round of Opportunity Scholarships that will be awarded in the months to come.”
The Opportunity Scholarship Act helps provide scholarships to elementary and high school students in need by providing tax credits to individuals and businesses who donate to nonprofit state-approved scholarship-granting organizations.
Opportunity Scholarships of Nebraska (OSN) is one of those organizations. It works in partnership with the Nebraska Catholic Conference and is supported by the state’s three Catholic bishops.
Since OSN launched about a month ago, about 2,500 students have expressed interest in the newly created scholarships, said OSN spokeswoman Lauren Gage.
Beginning with the 2024-25 school year, scholarships will be available for students in kindergarten through 12th grade who are from low-income families or are in foster care, or who are experiencing bullying, have a parent or guardian in the military or who are denied option enrollment by public schools.
To see if your child might be eligible or to apply for a 2024 tax credit donation to OSN, visit https://www.nebraskaopportunity.org/.
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