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

LINCOLN, Neb (KLKN) – The debate at the Capitol continued on Tuesday over a bill that would give tax credits to those who donate to scholarships for private and parochial schools.

LB 753 is part of Gov. Jim Pillen’s package of education proposals and would provide up to $25 million a year in tax credits.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of west Omaha, who said the bill would help low-income families to have the same choice of private schools as those with the means to afford it.

“We have a lot of families who would like to send their children to a different school than the one they’re zoned to by law,” she said. “But they can’t afford to move to a district that they would rather be in, and they can’t afford to pay tuition for a private school.”

She said Nebraska is one of two states that hasn’t addressed this issue and needs to come up with its own program.

Sen. Justin Wayne said parents in his North Omaha district are looking for alternatives to public schools but often can’t afford tuition.

He wants to help kids who he says have been discriminated against in public schools and aren’t getting the education they deserve.

“We can’t even in this state have an honest conversation about how we should label schools,” he said. “We won’t even call schools failing. I have yet to see a private school discriminate based off of whatever. I have yet to see it. But I have seen public schools do it quite a bit.”

Opponents such as Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha say the bill would benefit some poor kids but ultimately helps the rich as a “tax credit for the wealthy.”

Others say the bill will direct funds from the public into private schools, which have more freedom to discriminate against children and families that don’t align with their values.

Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha said the bill is about government incentivized donations and uses “a few underprivileged people as some nice marketing.”

“I just can’t stand the argument that we need to give money to rich people so they can give it to poor people so they can help themselves,” Hunt said. “This is trickle-down school funding. Just fund the schools; just fund the public schools.”

The Nebraska State Education Association also shared new research showing that these types of tax credits overwhelmingly benefit wealthy families.

In the three states that provided data, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that most of the tax credits were being claimed by families with incomes of over $200,000 a year.

The education association is asking people to sign a petition against LB 753.

The bill does have 30 co-sponsors, so it is only two votes short of overcoming a filibuster this year.

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