At 11:19 a.m. on Wednesday, May 24, I stood with our executive director, Tom Venzor, outside the chambers of the Nebraska Unicameral with other lobbyists. The final vote for LB753 Opportunity Scholarships was taking place and all eyes were on the lightbulbs next to the names of senators: 33 green “yes” votes meant history – school choice had finally arrived in Nebraska.
As the vote count in favor of LB753 Opportunity Scholarships hit 30, the math became simple: we needed three votes and there were only three senators remaining.
It was at this moment that movement in the balcony caught my eye – nearly 40 students and teachers from St. John School in Lincoln leaned forward in anticipation from their perch overlooking the senators. It was a genuine moment of nervous anticipation. One could almost hear their whispered prayers of hope.
Thirty-one green lights… then 32… and finally, Senator Ray Aguilar (of Grand Island) voted yes! As if choreographed, the St. John School students and staff reclined in joyful relief and shared smiles and fist bumps.
I tell you this story because after decades of political battles, opponent smear tactics, and long debates, the purpose of the journey was clear: LB 753 is about kids. The raw emotion of those St. John School students is a reminder that every child deserves the opportunity to find the school that is best for that student.
Our state’s bishops said it well in their joint statement: “The passage of LB753 represents a profound affirmation of the fundamental principle that parents are the primary educators of their children. By providing scholarship opportunities to low-income families, LB753 will enable parents to exercise greater freedom in choosing the educational environment that best meets their children’s unique needs and aspirations. Every child deserves an education that nurtures their intellectual, spiritual, and moral growth, and LB753 makes a transformative education more accessible to all children.”
Our bishops are articulating fundamental Catholic teaching that can literally be found in the Catechism. A supermajority of Nebraska’s legislature and governor agree with the truth of that teaching because kids get just one shot at an education. Therefore, the fundamental right of parents to choose the best path forward must be honored.
The Opportunity Scholarships Act is truly groundbreaking legislation that prioritizes the most vulnerable children and families in our communities. Over 30 years after the first school choice program was established, Nebraska joins the other 49 states that have passed legislation that puts the rights of parents and kids first.
Victories of this magnitude require commensurate gratitude. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the elected officials who championed and voted for LB753. We particularly recognize Senator Lou Ann Linehan for her years of dedication to improving education in Nebraska, without whom this historic victory would not be possible. We also thank Senator Justin Wayne who has become a major champion for school choice and a powerful voice for the families this bill seeks to empower. We also extend gratitude to Governor Jim Pillen, who asked Sen. Linehan to introduce the Opportunity Scholarships Act on his behalf, made room for the passage of the bill in his budget, and claimed school choice as a flagship issue in his first year in office.
Most importantly, we thank you. Your voices and stories have encouraged, educated, and empowered state senators to choose kids and families over systems, amidst loud and well-funded opposition. Only with your advocacy are we able to achieve such historic wins. The payoffs will impact generations of Nebraskans to come. Don’t believe me? Just ask one of those other generations: the kids in the balcony. Understanding the gravity of the moment for themselves and their futures, they excitedly made their way to the rotunda. They joined 40 other students from Omaha in a rare but beautiful scene for such an austere setting, erupting into joyful cheering for Senators Linehan, Wayne, and the other supporters.
LB753 is about putting kids first and at 11:19 a.m. May 24, the Nebraska legislature did just that. And then, at 12:20 p.m. May 30, Governor Pillen’s signature of LB753 in front of excited kids and families made it official – Nebraska prioritizes the rights of parents and kids.