School choice proposals to be offered in upcoming legislative session

November 9, 2017 GMT

As the 2018 Nebraska legislative session nears, several organizations continue to call for more school choice.

Educate Nebraska — a nonprofit organization that weighs in on K-12 issues — has joined forces with Americans for Prosperity-Nebraska, which advocates for school choice among other non-education issues.

The groups, led by Katie Linehan and Matt Litt respectively, are in favor of three school choice bills that will be considered by the legislature this session:

- LB630 is a public charter school bill that would allow the state to authorize public schools that operate outside of the district governance structure, but within the geographical confines of any district with a failing school.

- LB608 is a voucher bill that would allow any student zoned to a failing school to take a portion of their per pupil funding to an accredited, private school of their family’s choice.

- LB295 is a tax-credit scholarship bill that provides low and middle income families access to scholarships through a state approved scholarship granting organization. Individuals and businesses that donate to the scholarship granting organization are eligible for a tax credit for their donations.

Linehan, executive director of Educate Nebraska, said the bills would affect districts differently.

For example, since Norfolk’s public schools perform well compared to other public schools in the state, the bills that make reference to “failing” schools would not be applicable to Norfolk.

However, she and Litt, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Nebraska, expect the tax-credit scholarship bill to prioritized this session.

This would be the first school choice bill to make it to the floor of the Nebraska Legislature.

Litt said a study done in Oklahoma after it implemented similar tax-credit scholarships showed a savings to taxpayers — specifically, a fiscal return of $2.58 to the Oklahoma taxpayer for every $1 of tax credit issued. It also showed a savings to the state budget of $1.24 for every $1 issued.

“Not only are we helping families find the right choice for them and their children, but the state is also seeing a return in savings from providing those types of options,” Litt said. “So, when you have a different mindset it really opens up a whole new world of possibilities. ... It’s taken this long to get there, but it’ll be interesting just how it sets the table going forward once senators have a vote on a bill like this.”