Nebraska school choice bill advances with help from both parties

School choice in Nebraska cleared a major hurdle this week when Democrats teamed up with Republicans to advance LB 753 in a 31-12 vote in the state Legislature.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, R-District 39, introduced the bill at the request of Gov. Jim Pillen, according to Unicameral Update, the official news source of the Nebraska Legislature. The bill would give Nebraskans a tax credit for contributions made to nonprofit organizations that grant scholarships to students to use on educational expenses, including private school tuition.

Linehan has introduced similar measures in each of the last five years, but none made it this far.

“Nebraska Senate passed a school choice bill for the first time in the state’s history today,” said Corey A. DeAngelis, senior fellow at the American Federation for Children, via Twitter.

“Thank you Senator LOU ANN LINEHAN for carrying the bill and fighting for education freedom for years,” he added. 

If the bill is ultimately passed in its current form, the state would cap the program at $25 million for the first two years before raising the cap to $100 million, according to a local KPVI 6 report.

The money would allow “thousands” of low-income families in Nebraska to send their children to the schools of their choice, said Linehan. 

Even Democratic legislators argued for the change. 

Democrat Sens. Terrell McKinney, Justin Wayne and Mike McDonnell all voted to advance the measure because it would improve education options in Omaha districts, said KPVI.

“These families are tired of being told to wait,” McKinney said.

“This is the way we get kids out of poverty,” added Sen. Christy Armendariz, a Republican who also supported the bill.

Still, the vote was only to advance the bill past the first round of debate. The bill is expected to undergo some slight changes if it continues to advance.  

“We’ll get to something that everyone can support,” said Linehan, adding that she expects 45 out of 49 legislators to support the final bill, according to KPVI. 

The bill is one part of a larger $1 billion education reform package by Pillen that will add to general funds for education in the state.