Nebraska Legislature Rejects Scholarship Tax Credits

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (Elkhorn), District 39Photo: Nebraska Unicameral Information Office

(Lincoln, NE) -- The Nebraska Legislature rejects a tax credit scholarship program for the second time this session.

The Opportunity Scholarships Act would give taxpayers a credit on up to half of their annual income if they donate to tuition assistance for low-income private school students. Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (Elkhorn) has sponsored some version of the bill every year she has served in the Legislature.

Supporters of the bill say it allows low-income families the choice to find a better educational fit. Sen. Suzanne Geist (Lincoln) tells KFAB Radio News that "it's an important bill that answers what a number of low-income parents are asking for: choice, so their children have the option for the best education available to them". The bill also earned additional support from Omaha State Senators Mike McDonnell, Terrell McKinney, and Justin Wayne. Wayne pointed to the achievement gap between Black and White students in Omaha Public Schools, arguing that private schools could be a worthwhile alternative for many low-income students.

Opponents of the bill say private schools are allowed to discriminate against certain students in a way that public schools are not. An amendment from Sen. Megan Hunt (Omaha) would have required tuition assistance to follow non-discrimination requirements similar to that of public schools; it failed 17-26.

Other arguments against the legislation came from State Senators in Western Nebraska, including Matt Williams of Gothenburg. Williams who says opportunity is not present in all parts of the state, especially in rural areas where there are no private schools. "Opportunity and choice... are not available in Legislative District 36," Williams said.

The debate turned heated, with both sides of the issue accusing the other of refusing to negotiate in good faith. During her filibuster, Hunt said Linehan "had all interim to meet with stakeholders, to work with people like me that have a problem with the non-discrimination language that I talked about last year. She didn't do that...she's not working in good faith to make the bill better."

State Senator Mike Flood of Norfolk said Linehan asked for a group to negotiate the bill the morning of the vote. "You could assemble a group of people on your side to come over, and [look at] how do we get from where we're at to where we want to go, and if it involves private schools, can we do this, this, and this. But you've all been doing this for much longer than I have...this is what you do, you go in there and you vote no."

Ultimately, after eight hours of debate, the bill fell five votes short of breaking a filibuster.

Linehan tells KFAB Radio News that she will reintroduce the bill and push for its passage. "Kids can't wait. We won't stop fighting," she said Tuesday night. "It's a long priority is families having access to schools that work best for their kids."

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