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Nebraska Lawmakers Discuss Bill Offering $25 Million Tax Credit for Private School Donors

LINCOLN, Nebraska (Nebraska) — Nebraska legislators are debating a bill that would provide tax breaks for those who donate to private schools.

It’s part of the “School Choice Act” backed by Gov. Jim Pillen.

Nebraska is one of only two states that does not provide public funds to private schools.

“The state will soon provide $2.6-2.7 billion for public education in Nebraska,” said Sen. Tom Breeze of Albion. “And what are our opponents of the 753rd complaining about? $25 million.”

In January, the governor gathered several students in the rotunda to publicize the plan.

LB753 is the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a bill that provides $25 million in tax credits when someone donates to private school scholarships.

“I was one of those students from first grade to high school who told me I would never go to college because I wasn’t smart enough,” said Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn. “I was placed in a special unit because I was dyslexic. So it comes from the heart.”

Senator Linehan is the sponsor of the bill and says tax credits will take precedence for new students who are in the low-income category.

“We don’t give money to private schools. We give money to children and their parents so that they have a choice.”

But some lawmakers question the logic of the proposal, saying private schools don’t have the same transparency as public schools.

“There’s a reason the state constitution says no public funds should be used for religious institutions,” said Sen. John Kavanaugh of Omaha. “That’s because government dollars should not be used for this form of indoctrination.”

“To say that this bill does not include public funds directed to private schools is to exaggerate the problem,” said Senator George Dungan of Lincoln. “The bill absolutely definitely affects the bottom line.”

While the bill provides for $25 million in tax credits in the first year, experts predict the program will grow to $39 million in two years.

“No one can tell me that choice is not needed in my community,” said Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha. “When I was on the student council, I was against this and that. After 12 years of trying to figure this out, my community just needs an option.”

Gov. Pillan issued a statement after Monday morning’s debate saying the bill is part of a package and that not passing it “would jeopardize funding for all Nebraska students.”

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