Bill to make it financially easier for students to attend private school advancements in Unicameral

LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska) – The Nebraska Legislature passed the Opportunity Scholarships Act by 33 to 12 votes and will now move on to the next stages of the legislative process.

If passed in all three rounds of voting, the bill would set aside a $25 million fund for dollar-for-dollar tax credits for people who donate to organizations that provide private school scholarships.

The act, LB 753, introduced by Senator Lou Ann Linehan, has been overturned in terms of votes several times in past years. Over three days of debate, Linehan made multiple arguments, but most came to wanting to provide Nebraska families with one more choice, if they couldn’t afford private school on their own, since scholarships would be the priority for low-income families.

“We can turn struggles and obstacles into dreams, hopes, realities for countless families by giving parents choices,” said Linehan. “They’re in the driver’s seat, determining what’s best for their children, just like I’m pretty sure everyone in this body can.”

Linehan said that currently the organizations that award scholarships do not have enough money and often have to send the children away.

“LB 753 would remedy that,” Linehan said. Most of the opponents were Democratic members of the Legislature, but there were some outliers. Senators Justin Wayne and Terrell McKinney, both of Omaha, supported the bill, adding that while it’s not a perfect solution, the choice it will offer parents in their North Omaha communities is worth it.

Opponents have raised a variety of concerns, from public dollars going to private schools that require a religious curriculum to a lack of protection against discrimination within private schools. Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh said he is pulling his children out of Omaha Catholic schools because of their new policies regarding gay and transgender students.

“It is the explicit policy of the archdiocesan schools to discriminate against and expel gay and transgender students,” Cavanaugh said. “He mandated conversion therapy for those students, banned participation in volunteer events for gay and transgender parents, or anyone who expressed disagreement with Catholic teachings on sexuality. He also said that those parents’ children would be subject to disciplinary action for themselves. I was put in a position where standing up for my beliefs and values ​​would mean my children could be expelled from their school.”

An amendment that would have prevented schools from discriminating on scholarships, introduced by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, has failed. LB 753 will then move on to enrollment and review part of the process before a second full body vote in the general file.

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