Nebraska’s ‘School Choice’ Law Approved by Pillen as Opponents Consider Next Moves

Nebraska’s Gov. Jim Pillen has given the green light to a “school choice” bill from a state lawmaker, sparking concerns among opponents about how they will challenge the new legislation.

Expressing her enthusiasm for the change, Linehan shared with the Nebraska Examiner on Wednesday, “I’m very excited for a bunch of low-income kids who couldn’t access an education that best fits their needs, and now they’ll be able to.”

While opponents managed to place last year’s measure on the November 2024 ballot for voters to decide on the Opportunity Scholarships Act, the fate of that referendum now hangs in the balance due to LB 1402.

State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan explains the potential impacts of LB 753 on Tuesday, May 30, 2023, in Lincoln. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

As of now, Secretary of State Bob Evnen has not made a decision regarding the referendum’s status, and whether it will go to the ballot or not, with consultations ongoing with the attorney general’s office.

If it were to occur, it would mark the first instance in state history of a legislative act overriding an active ballot referendum.

With Pillen’s endorsement, LB 1402 will come into effect mid-July after passing 32-14 without an “emergency clause,” which would have seen immediate enactment post-signing.

The previous law allocated $25 million for tax credits with a potential increase to $100 million, but Linehan scaled down the budget and removed the escalator clause in the revised LB 1402 to secure its passage.

Linehan has been advocating for years to introduce school choice in Nebraska, aiming to eliminate its status as one of the only two states lacking such options (with North Dakota being the other).

Highlighting the importance of the issue, Linehan stated earlier this month, “It’s a civil rights issue because if your family is stuck in a school district that doesn’t work for you with no way out, that is not what America is supposed to be about.”

Jenni Benson, president of the Nebraska State Education Association, leads a march of teachers from downtown Lincoln to the Nebraska State Capitol on April 29, 2023, in Lincoln. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Opponents of using public funds for private education, including the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA), have condemned LB 1402 and viewed its approval as “a slap in the face to voters.”

Pledging resistance against the bill, NSEA President Jenni Benson remarked in a statement, “We will fight back against the cowardly and cynical attempt to deny Nebraskans their right to vote.”

Possible actions ahead may involve legal challenges to the bill’s constitutionality or initiating another referendum, necessitating a substantial number of signatures by the summer.

Advocating for public school support over private institutions, Benson emphasized, “Instead of sending public dollars to private schools, which are under no obligation to serve all children, state funds should be used to support the public schools that 9 out of 10 Nebraska students attend.”

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