CV NEWS FEED // The Nebraska Legislature on Wednesday passed a bill that would create the first school choice program in the state’s history. Gov. Jim Pillen, R-NE, is expected to sign the bill into law.
LB753, also known as the “Opportunity Scholarship Act,” would “create a $100 million tax credit scholarship program” primarily serving “students from lower-income families, students with special needs, students who experience bullying, students from military families, students in foster care, and students who are denied option enrollment into a non-zone public school,” the American Federation for Children reported.
The average scholarship amount would be capped at around $9,200. Families in the lowest income brackets would have first priority.
The bill passed by a vote of 33 to 11. Of the 11 votes in opposition, ten were from Democrats and one from socialist independent Megan Hunt. Three Democrats, Sens. Mike McDonnell, Terrell McKinney, and Justin Wayne, joined Republicans in voting for the bill, while three other Democrats and two Republicans did not vote.
While Nebraska’s Legislature, the only unicameral state legislature in the country, is officially non-partisan, almost all of its members have traditionally identified with political parties. Republicans maintain a strong majority. Members are commonly referred to as “senators.”
After the bill passed, its main sponsor, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, stated:
Today is about the kids and families in Nebraska whose lives will be changed thanks to the freedom to attend a school that best fits their needs. It has been my honor and privilege to be part of this effort and it would not have been possible without the leadership and commitment of Governor Pillen, Speaker Arch, so many of my colleagues in the legislature, and hundreds of advocates and families who have been fighting to open the doors of opportunity to kids who need it most.
Linehan added that Sen. Wayne, one of the Democrats who voted in favor of LB753, was an integral force in getting the bill passed and has “boldly and consistently put the best of [sic] interest of children before political gain. We simply could not have done this without his heroic leadership.”
In a March 8 opinion piece at the Washington Examiner, Sen. Linehan’s daughter and pro-education freedom activist Katie Linehan detailed the current landscape of school choice in Nebraska.
“The fight for education freedom in Nebraska has been hard fought but slow-going for more than a decade,” she wrote:
While school choice programs have blossomed in most other parts of the country, two states have held out: Nebraska and North Dakota. To this day, Nebraska students are limited to their residentially assigned public schools with the hope of enrolling in better public schools with option enrollment — but only if there’s room.
Gov. Pillen, who just signed a law that protects unborn babies from abortions after 12 weeks of gestation and protects children from sexual surgeries and procedures, is almost guaranteed to sign the school choice bill into law as well. He has identified himself as a supporter of school choice and posted a column on his website in support of L.B. 753.
“Every Nebraska kid should be given the opportunity to have their educational needs met, whether they live in Omaha or Scottsbluff. Every parent regardless of socio-economic status should have the ability to decide what is the best school to meet their child’s need,” he wrote:
Currently, Nebraska remains one of only two states that does not support school choice. This leaves us uncompetitive with neighboring states and it means we are not giving our kids every opportunity to flourish at a school they want to attend.
I support this bill because I support competition. This legislation will give parents, who have kids with the greatest needs, the means to choose a school that serves them best and allows them to thrive.
Once LB753 is signed into law, North Dakota will be the only remaining state without a school choice program.
A recent school choice bill, HB 1532, passed North Dakota’s state legislature only to be vetoed by Gov. Doug Burgum, R-ND. Days later, the State House fell short of overriding Burgum’s veto. Burgum has indicated that he would be open to signing another school choice bill, but had particular issues with the one brought to his desk.