Nebraska school choice proposal gets hearing, support of governor

A school choice bill in Nebraska is back up for consideration, this time with support from the governor.

“We can’t let one kid fall through the cracks and focus on students, not systems. [LB753] has my full endorsement and support,” said Gov. Jim Pillen.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, who has concentrated on school choice since her election in 2017, modified the latest version to institute a “tier system,” where lower income families would be the first to get tax credits for education scholarships.

The legislation would give tax credits of up to 50% of state income tax liability to individuals or organizations which donate to an eligible scholarship granting organization. The scholarships can be used by families for approved education expenses, including private school tuition.

“We’re talking about kids in ZIP codes that don’t have any other options except to pay tuition or go to public schools they’re zoned to,” said Linehan. “They might thrive in another school. They ought to have the option.”

This may be welcome news to many Nebraska students, whose test scores have suffered declines similar to other states since the COVID-19 lockdowns imposed by teachers’ unions disrupted learning. 

Proficiency in English was down 5% – from 51% in 2018-19 to 46% in 2021-2022 according to Omaha.com.

Mathematics proficiency was at 44%, an 8 point loss 8, and science scores were down 5 points to 48%. 

“Each metro area district’s performance rating correlates with its poverty rate – a point not lost on critics of the state’s accountability system,” the report reads. 

The reform comes at an opportune moment, supporters say, as the state Board of Education will select a new education commissioner in March to replace Matthew Blomstedt, who resigned last month after eight years in the top spot.