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History repeats itself

In dramatic fashion, on the last day of the 108th Legislature, Second Regular Session, the Nebraska Unicameral repeated history by passing another critical school choice program.

When the Nebraska Legislature passed the Opportunity Scholarships Act in 2023, we became the 49th state in the nation to adopt a school choice program. In just under a year later, we have made another major stride on the school choice front. This new school choice legislation is another major step forward for Nebraska’s children and parents, to ensure they have more opportunities to choose an education that best fits their needs.

With that in mind, let’s cover some of the basics of this new and historic legislation.

Who Introduced LB1402? LB1402 was introduced and “prioritized” by Senator Lou Ann Linehan (Elkhorn). This marks the seventh year that Sen. Linehan prioritized school choice legislation during her eight-year tenure in the Nebraska Legislature. It goes without saying, she has been a school choice champion, and we owe her a debt of gratitude for her passionate leadership for children across Nebraska.

How Does LB1402 Work? LB1402 provides education scholarships to eligible students in need to attend a non-public school of their choice. It does this by creating a “voucher” program. This voucher program provides $10 million in state funding that can be used by families in need of scholarships.

This method of funding scholarships stands in stark contrast to last year’s LB753, the Opportunity Scholarships Act. LB753 allows taxpayers to make state income tax credit contributions to scholarship granting organizations, which then use those funds to distribute scholarships. Under LB753, all the funds must be raised. With LB1402, the funds will “automatically” be available for distribution.

LB1402 will be operated by the state treasurer (currently, Tom Briese). Treasurer Briese will have the option to contract with up to three program managers, to assist him in the distribution of scholarships.

The following students are eligible for a scholarship under LB1402:
> A child who is entering kindergarten or ninth grade, or some other “first point of entry” offered by a non-public school (for example, some non-public schools don’t start until first grade or fourth grade or sixth grade—these would be eligible “points of entry”);
> A child who is transferring from a public school and entering any grade K-12;
> A child whose parent or guardian is active duty military and is entering any grade K-12;
> A child who is the sibling of a student receiving an education scholarship;
> A child who is currently enrolled in a non-public school and is below 213% of the federal poverty level; or
> A child who has previously received an education scholarship under LB1402 or the Opportunity Scholarships Act.

The legislation also has a four-tier priority system, to ensure that scholarships are going to the most vulnerable and needy students first. For example, kids who are below 185% of the federal poverty level, or a special needs student, will have first priority for a scholarship. The scholarship income eligibility is up to 300% of the reduced lunch program levels. To speak in plain English, 185% of the federal poverty level for a family of four is around $57,000, and 300% of the reduced lunch program for a family of four is approximately $170,000.

To reiterate, while families at the 300% reduced lunch program income number are eligible, the program is designed to give a preferential concern for those most in need, and that is also likely to be reflected in the amount of scholarship awards given out to families.

Did the Governor Sign LB1402? Yes, Governor Jim Pillen signed LB1402 into law on April 24, 2024. Like Sen. Linehan, Gov. Pillen has been a key school choice champion and we are thankful for his leadership for children in need of education freedom.

When Will LB1402 Go Into Effect? While LB1402 has been signed into law, it does not go into legal effect until July 18, 2024. At that point, the state treasurer can begin distributing scholarships. But it will likely take some time to get the program up and running. My best guess is that the bulk of scholarships distributed under LB1402 will be for the 2025-26 school year.

Will the Teachers Union Challenge LB1402? Yes. The Teachers Union and other school choice opponents have already promised to challenge LB1402, either in the courts or possibly through another ballot referendum. It remains to be seen exactly how they will challenge this new law to help students in need of better educational options.

What Can I Do Now? Say a prayer of thanksgiving. Passing any bill is a major accomplishment, and passing school choice in Nebraska is historic. Thank God for the passage of LB1402! Also, continue to keep an eye on further developments with LB1402, and be a school choice advocate!

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