Two state senators and the governor urged a room full of private school students to get involved and push for laws to increase school choice in Nebraska during an annual rally Thursday at the Capitol.
“I need your help,” Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn told rally attendees — most of them students — who filled the Warner Chamber and the balconies surrounding it. “We only have a one-house Legislature. The other house is you. We need you to reach out to senators to pass LB295 to provide benefits to people willing to donate to scholarships (for private-school tuition).”
The Capitol was dotted with yellow scarves, a symbol of the annual school choice rally, and students carrying signs saying “Choice Means Hope” and “Parents Know Best.”
Gov. Pete Ricketts, a school-choice advocate, said his family was able to choose both Catholic and public schools based on what best fit the children’s needs, but not all families can afford to do that.
“That’s what every parent should have the opportunity of doing,” he said. “We need to put a system in place to make that possible.”
He mentioned low ACT scores in some schools to illustrate what he said is a need to find ways to improve education and made the case for “grading” schools like teachers grade students.
“That’s one of the things teachers do with you to help make you get better,” he said.
The college preparatory exam replaced state tests this year for high school juniors, which meant all students took the exam for the first time and all schools' scores were made public.
The Nebraska State Education Association — advocate of public school education — pushed back during National School Choice Week with a news release detailing the closing of a 12,000-student Ohio charter school this week after the Ohio Department of Education demanded an $80 million aid reimbursement because the school overreported student attendance.
Nebraska is one of just a few states that does not authorize charter schools, though the idea has gained momentum here in recent years, in part because of a supportive governor.
No charter school bills have been introduced this session, but Linehan and Sen. Jim Smith promoted LB295, a carryover bill from last year that would provide tax credits for donations to private school scholarship organizations. Linehan said she intends to prioritize the bill this session.
Smith compared schools to businesses, saying competition makes businesses better and results in lower-priced goods.
“Why aren’t we doing that in education?” he asked.