This week the Legislature debated Legislative Bill 364. This is a bill that promotes parents having more choices in the education of their children. Under LB 364, a limited tax credit would be authorized for people who donate money to provide scholarships to kids in poverty whose educational needs are not being met by their government school. This is especially important in those districts with failing public schools, where parents may understandably want their sons and daughters to attend a better performing private school.
Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn first introduced this bill in 2017, and every session since then. After an eight-hour filibuster it failed to receive the necessary 33 votes to stop debate. The vote was 29 yes, 18 no and two not voting.
During the debate, my colleague Sen. Justin Wayne from Omaha said, “The only people who are opposing school choice today are the same people who have choice. And many of them exercise that choice.” He absolutely nailed it with this statement.
A number of the 20 senators who opposed the bill have their own children attending private schools because they can afford it. Their objection to the bill was based on the wrong-headed idea that a privately funded scholarship program for poor kids somehow harms public schools in Nebraska. LB 364 does not change anything for public schools. This bill would not take one penny of funding from any public school.
The senators opposed to this bill care more about preventing educational competition than they care about helping some poor kid who is not being served in his government school. The best evidence suggests that private schools are often able to achieve better results with less money. That means that LB 364 is not just about getting a better education for at-risk kids and supporting the authority of parents to make the best decisions for their kids — it is about conserving taxpayer resources, too.
Nebraskans pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation, most of that going to the public schools. While I admire the work that teachers do in Nebraska public schools, the administration frustrates a lot of their efforts. Spending more does not mean that we are delivering a higher quality education. My constituents are in an uproar over the high cost of government schools in Nebraska and want to know what we are doing about it.
The people of Lincoln will soon see if their school board votes to give their superintendent a nice pay raise of $329,539 in annual salary. At the same time, senators in the Legislature are killing bills that would help a poor kid get into the same private school their own children attend. It suffices to say, the Legislature needs to hear from the people. Consider that a number of these senators opposing this bill will face the voters again when they run for re-election in 2022 and 2024. I encourage citizens to learn how their senators voted on this.
There are senators in this group of “no” votes who received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the teachers union. They strongly oppose any school choice legislation because it threatens their public school monopoly. I hope folks think about that the next time they have a ballot in front of them. Elections have consequences, and we are seeing that plain as day.
Contact Sen. Tom Brewer: firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2628.