Busloads of Nebraska’s private school students filled the state Capitol’s Warner Chamber on Thursday morning, donning yellow scarves for the annual school choice rally promoting a bill to allow scholarship tax credits.
State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan introduced the bill (LB670), which would allow private school donors tax credits totaling $10 million the first year. The scholarships would be available for low-income families.
“This legislation empowers parents with additional options to improve academic outcomes for kids in private and public schools,” Linehan said at a news conference after the rally. “It’s an investment in our kids and our state’s future. It will not harm public schools.”
This is the sole school choice bill this year. In past years, senators have introduced bills to allow charter schools but this year decided to focus on the tax credits, which Linehan said will not affect state funding to public schools and would save money by reducing the number of public school students.
This is the third year a scholarship tax credit bill has been introduced. Last year senators opposing the bill called it “bad tax policy” and suggested schools could still reject students they didn’t want.
Gov. Pete Ricketts and Lt. Gov. Mike Foley both spoke at the rally, promoting school choice, which they say allows families to make the best educational choices for their children.
“What we know is every kid learns, but not every kid learns the same way,” Ricketts said.
Ricketts said a scholarship tax credit is one of the ways the state can increase education choices for families.
Other ways to increase school choice, he said, include the state-funded scholarship program for college students he’s proposed and changing the state’s school accountability system to an A-F grading system.
Now schools are classified as excellent, great, good or needs improvement based on several performance measures, a system he says most people don’t understand as well as letter grades.
Speakers said there are good public schools but they don’t work for every child.
April Garcia, a parent whose daughter attends Christ Lincoln School, said a scholarship allowed her to make the best choice for her daughter without having to work two or three jobs to pay tuition.
Her daughter was in a public school where the student-to-teacher ratio was 24 to 1, she said. Her parochial school class had 12 students.
“While (the larger class size) was manageable in most classrooms I realized some of my daughter's needs were not being addressed and the teacher's available time was not allowing her to flourish," Garcia said.