Nebraska group petitioning to repeal school choice bill

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – At the Capitol on Tuesday, Support Our Schools Nebraska kicked off its petition drive for a ballot initiative to repeal LB 753.

Gov. Jim Pillen signed the Opportunity Scholarships Act last week, making it the first school choice bill in state history.

It commits $25 million a year in tax credits for those who donate to private school scholarship funds.

The group – which consists of organizations such as the Nebraska State Education Association – claims the bill is a scheme to put millions of public tax dollars into private schools.

Those who oppose the law also said private schools can discriminate against kids based on gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability.

The Supreme Court has ruled that private schools cannot discriminate based on race.

The Rev. T. Michael Williams with the Baptist Pastors and Ministers Conference of Omaha said that while a few poor students, students of color and special-needs students will benefit, wealthy people will be the ones getting tax breaks for donating.

“One thing I believe about Nebraskans is that they value fairness,” Williams said. “And I’m glad that we’re taking this issue to the people because 753 is unfair.”

Jane Erdenberger, a former teacher and a member of Omaha Public Schools Board of Education, said it’s her job to help allocate tax dollars to different school programs.

She said it’s hard enough losing any amount of money that could go toward public schools, and taking that money and putting it into private schools that can choose their students doesn’t help.

“It’s essential that we maximize the amount of money available to public schools and that we absolutely don’t send public money to private schools,” Erdenberger said. “The only benefit from this program, frankly, is people who make enough money to be able to deduct it from their taxes.”

During debate, Sen. Megan Hunt said the bill is about government-incentivized donations, calling it “trickle-down school funding.”

SEE ALSO: Would tax credits for private education donations help rich or poor Nebraskans more?

Sen. Justin Wayne, a supporter of the bill, said it was not an anti-public school bill, but a pro-parent bill.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, who introduced the measure, said it gives parents alternatives for schooling.

In response to the petition, Linehan also released a statement signed by the 33 members who supported the bill.

The statement says the senators are “deeply disappointed” by the efforts to pursue “a multi-million dollar ballot initiative denying opportunities to vulnerable and at-risk children.”

Gov. Jim Pillen also issued a statement, saying “every kid in Nebraska deserves a high-quality education and the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”

He called the attempt to overturn the law an attack on kids and their education opportunities.

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