Bill to make it financially easier for students to attend private school advances in Unicameral

The Nebraska Legislature passed the Opportunity Scholarships Act in a 33 to 12 cloture vote
Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 12:19 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 8, 2023 at 1:35 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The Nebraska Legislature passed the Opportunity Scholarships Act in a 33 to 12 cloture vote and it will now move on to the next steps in the legislative process.

If passed through all three rounds of voting, the bill would allocate a $25 million fund to go to dollar-for-dollar tax credits for people who make donations to organizations that provide scholarships to private school.

The act, LB 753, introduced by Senator Lou Ann Linehan, has been repeatedly shot down in cloture votes in years past. In three days of debate, Linehan made multiple arguments but most came down to wanting to provide Nebraska families with an additional choice, if they couldn’t afford private school on their own, as the scholarships would be prioritized for low income families.

“We can turn struggles and obstacles into dreams, hopes, realities for countless families by providing choice for parents,” Linehan said. “They’re in the driver’s seat, they determine what’s best for their children, just like I’m pretty sure everybody in this body can.”

Linehan said currently, scholarship granting organizations don’t have enough money and often have to turn kids away.

“LB 753 would remedy that,” Linehan said. Most of the opponents were democratic members of the legislature, but there were a few outliers. Senators Justin Wayne and Terrell McKinney, both of Omaha, supported the bill, adding that while its not a perfect solution, the choice it will give parents in their North Omaha communities is worth it.

Opponents brought up a number of concerns, from public dollars going to private schools that require religious curriculum to the lack of protection against discrimination within private schools. Omaha Senator John Cavanaugh said he’s pulling his kids from Catholic school in Omaha because of their new policies regarding gay and transgender students.

“It is the explicit policy of the Archdiocese schools to discriminate against and expel gay and transgender students,” Cavanaugh said. “It mandated conversion therapy for those students, it barred participation in volunteer events for gay and transgender parents, or anyone who expressed disagreement with Catholic teachings on sexuality. It even stated that children of those parents would be subject to disciplinary action for themselves. I was placed in a position where standing up for my beliefs and my values would mean that my children could be expelled from their school.”

An amendment which would have prevented scholarships from going to schools that discriminate, introduced by Omaha Senator Megan Hunt, failed. LB 753 will next go to the enrollment and review part of the process before a second full body vote in general file.