Education

LB295 & LB804: double the education choice, double the fun!

Two legislative bills on education choice each had important moments in the legislature last week. LB295 now has a senator committed to prioritizing the legislation, thereby ensuring that tax credit scholarship bill will be debated by the whole legislature.

LB804, a bill that allows families to more responsibly save for K-12 tuition expenses, received a public hearing. Both bills give families more robust freedom in choosing an education best suited for their child.

LB295 & Priority Legislation. At the School Choice Week Rally Jan. 25, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan announced that she will select LB295 as her 2018 senator priority bill. Initially introduced by Sen. Jim Smith, LB295 enacts a tax credit for donations to nonprofit scholarship-granting organizations, providing private school scholarships for low-income and working-class students.

A “priority” designation is a critical moment for LB295. Every year, between 500-600 legislative bills are introduced. Of those bills, about half advance from their respective legislative committee to the full legislative body. Since there are more legislative bills to debate than time permits, the legislature has a rule for designating “priority” legislation. This determines which bills are guaranteed debate. Each senator can designate one legislative bill as their “priority” bill. Notably, each committee can designate two bills and the speaker of the legislature can designate 25 bills.

By announcing LB295 as her “priority” legislative bill, Sen. Linehan ensures that LB295 will be debated by the whole legislature. This is important because it provides the legislation an opportunity for passage. Furthermore, it is historic because education choice legislation has not been debated by the whole legislature in more than 25 years.

The Nebraska Catholic Conference is tremendously grateful to Sen. Linehan for championing this education choice effort. As well, we are deeply appreciative for the work of Sen. Smith and Sen. Bob Krist. Both senators have been introducers of scholarship tax credit legislation and paved the way for this critical moment.

Our state senators want and need to hear from you about your support for education choice policy. Every child deserves the opportunity to attend a school that best suits his or her unique needs, regardless of family income. I encourage you to take this moment call, write, or e-mail your state senator (find their contact info at www.nebraskalegislature.gov). You can find more resources on LB295 at www.necatholic.org.

LB804 & Responsibly Saving for K-12 Education. Last Friday, another education choice policy, LB804, had an important moment: a public hearing. Introduced by Sen. Lydia Brasch at the request of State Treasurer Don Stenberg, LB804 aligns Nebraska with recent federal tax reform on K-12 education savings accounts. LB804 would provide a state income tax deduction for taxpayers who deposit money into “529 education savings accounts” for the purposes of K-12 tuition expenses. Currently, a taxpayer can only receive such a benefit for college tuition expenses.

This is common-sense public policy for at least a couple reasons.

First, LB804 provides tax fairness. Families who can afford and select a nonpublic school setting must pay tuition. These families do so in addition to paying local and state taxes for traditional public schools. This burden of paying for two different education systems can act as a financial penalty for selecting nonpublic schools which, in turn, can disincentive parents’ decision to choose an education best suited for their child. But LB804 begins to remedy the inequity facing taxpayers who choose nonpublic schools for their children.

Second, by assisting middle-class families to responsibly save for K-12 tuition expenses, LB804 addresses inequality of opportunity. Middle-class families are oftentimes already struggling to make ends meet, which can make choosing a parochial school education difficult or even impossible. For such families, even seemingly small financial incentives can make the difference for a decision to choose a nonpublic education for their child. LB804 would provide such an incentive and give middle-class families greater freedom in choosing an education best suited for their child’s needs and values.

LB804 has not yet received any action by the Revenue Committee. Please join me in contacting members of the Revenue Committee and urging them to advance LB804 to the whole legislative body. Find a list of committee members and contact information at www.necatholic.org/be-an-advocate.

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