Support Our Schools submits more than 117,000 petition signatures to put school choice on Nebraska ballot
Secretary of State has 40 days to verify signatures before it can put item on Nebraska’s general election ballot in November 2024
LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Support Our Schools was at the Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday morning to submit signatures in favor of putting Nebraska’s school choice issue on the state ballot.
The Support Our Schools campaign opposes tax credits for private schools in the state. They argue the new law lacks transparency and accountability for private schools — and noted that while public schools must accept all students, private schools can pick and choose who they admit.
The group said they submitted boxes containing 117,145 petitions signed by registered Nebraska voters, surpassing their initial goal of 90,000.
“We set a 90,000 signatures goal because while it takes about 60,000 verified/valid signatures to get it on the ballot, you always try to collect at least 50% more than that as some signatures will not be able to be verified — perhaps a signer/voter has moved or they didn’t register to vote by the required turn-in day... or they signed the wrong county petition, etc.,” Karen Kilgarin of the Nebraska State Education Association said in an email to 6 News on Wednesday. “We never planned or even thought about going for 200,000 signatures.”
If they had collected that many, then the law could have been suspended rather than putting the matter in front of voters.
“If Nebraskans vote to repeal the voucher scheme in LB753, the ‘charitable donations’ to these newly-created pass-through entities called SGOs will not be paid for by diverting owed income taxes to private school tuition entities,” Kilgarin said. “LB753′s effective date is Jan. 1, 2024; however, income tax returns are filed in the year following the year the tax is due.... Also, income tax returns are filed in the year following the year the tax is due – so for 2024, we file in the spring of 2025, and LB753 will be on the ballot for repeal in November of 2024, so it doesn’t matter that the bill’s “effective” date is in 2024, the diversion of tax dollars to private schools would not take place until 2025 when returns are filed.”
The petition drive got underway in June; the petition required the signatures of 60,000 registered Nebraska voters to be collected in three months in order for the issue to be approved for next year’s November general election ballot. Now, the Secretary of State’s election office will work to verify the signatures in the next 40 days.
Also, income tax returns are filed in the year following the year the tax is due – so for 2024, we file in the spring of 2025, and LB753 will be on the ballot for repeal in November of 2024, so it doesn’t matter that the bill’s “effective” date is in 2024, the diversion of tax dollars to private schools would not take place until 2025 when returns are filed.
LB753, known as the “Opportunity Scholarship Act” or the “school choice bill,” was signed into law by the governor in May. The bill was put forward by State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, who noted that scholarships could still be awarded.
“While they likely gathered enough signatures to put LB753 on the ballot in November 2024, they failed to gather enough signatures to suspend the program until the vote occurs. This means scholarships can be awarded to families in need for the 2024-2025 school year,” she said in a written statement.
Referring to organizers backing the S.O.S. push as “union bosses,” Gov. Jim Pillen vowed in a statement Wednesday that “we should not be fighting this fight,” and that even if the issue makes it onto a state ballot, “the fight will not be over.”
Linehan reinforced that point as well in her statement:
“The teachers union and their allies want to double down on their efforts to take opportunity away from vulnerable kids, including kids from low-income families and kids trying to escape bullying, that’s a fight I’m willing to take on,” she said. “I’m proud to stand with Governor Jim Pillen and a bipartisan super-majority of the Legislature to support parents and children desperately in need of education choice. All Nebraska kids deserve hope and opportunity from a quality education of their parents’ choosing.”
In recent weeks, Keep Kids First, a group that supports the new school choice law, has been directly reaching out to those who have already signed the S.O.S. petition and is encouraging them to have their names removed from the petition.
Nevertheless, Support Our Schools said they’ve collected signatures in more than 60% of the state’s 20 most and least populated counties as well as nearly 70% of those with a private school.
“I’ve traveled all across our state these past 90 days and I am heartened by the support I’ve seen from Nebraskans for their public schools,” NSEA President Jenni Benson said in Wednesday’s Support Our Schools news release. “Nebraskans from all walks of life, and all areas — rural, urban, small towns, and everywhere in-between — have been overwhelmingly supportive of the petition effort to put the repeal of LB753 to a vote. Nebraskans want to keep their public schools strong.”
Kilgarin noted that donations to private schools can still be made regardless of the ballot drive or its outcome.
“Those wishing to make charitable contributions to private school tuition scholarship programs can do so at any time,” she said. “If Nebraskans vote to repeal the voucher scheme in LB753, the ‘charitable donations’ to these newly-created pass-through entities called SGOs will not be paid for by diverting owed income taxes to private school tuition entities.”
Read the governor’s full statement
“The union bosses running this political campaign failed to gather enough signatures to suspend this great program. We should not be fighting this fight. With the support of the Legislature, I provided the largest funding increase in the State’s history for public education. The signatures collected will now have to be certified by the Secretary of State. If this initiative makes it onto the 2024 ballot, I can promise you the fight will not be over. I have confidence in education, both public and private. I will continue to make sure each student in Nebraska has the educational freedom to choose where they want to attend school. We will never give up on our kids.”
Watch Wednesday’s S.O.S. news conference
10/11 Now contributed to this report.
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