In this week’s interview, communication manager David Hazen speaks with Archbishop George J. Lucas about the importance of supporting LB295, the Opportunity Scholarships Act, which would create tax credits for donations to nonprofit organizations providing scholarships to private and parochial school students.
Q: As our state’s new legislative session begins, the three bishops of Nebraska are supporting the passage of LB295, the Opportunity Scholarships Act. What would this legislation do?
LB295 would create a tax credit for donations given to nonprofit organizations which provide private school scholarships to students from low- and middle-income families.
Q: Why should this be an issue of concern for Catholics?
This legislation provides us a means of encouraging and supporting parents in their God-given vocation as the primary educators of their children. The catechism is unequivocal: “As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to (choose a school for them) which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2229; emphasis in the original).
In Nebraska, there are many working-class and lower-income families who currently do not have the opportunity to exercise this right to choose the school that forms the best partnership with parents for the good of the children. Even though parents and others in the community are ready to make sacrifices to keep non-public schools affordable for families who wish to choose them, the cost is still out of reach for too many. While the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Omaha was able to help more than 1,800 students last year attend the school chosen by their parents, they also had to turn away 635 applications due to a lack of scholarship funds.
Whenever parents are empowered to make important choices for the welfare of their children, family life is strengthened. When families are stronger, our communities and our state are stronger. The choice of the right school for their children is an essential exercise of God-given parental responsibility. Families and children are less likely to thrive when the community does not support parents in making the best choice. LB295 would serve as a concrete way for all of us to promote justice and serve the common good.
Q: Is this sort of legislation unique to Nebraska?
No. Eighteen other states – including South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas – have similar programs in place.
Q: How does this legislation differ from a school-choice voucher program? Will it take funds away from public schools?
Tax-credit scholarships are not vouchers. Vouchers shift public school funds to students attending private school, whereas tax-credit scholarships funnel only private contributions to families and students seeking to attend private school. LB295 will save millions of taxpayer dollars by slowing expenditures of state education aid. Similar legislation has saved a total of between $1.7 billion and $3.4 billion in other states.
Q: Does LB295 give the state new powers to interfere in private or faith-based education?
It does not. Moreover, it respects religious freedom by increasing access to all schools, regardless of their religious affiliation. School participation would be voluntary. The state would not have any expanded authority regarding school governance or policies. Scholarship funds generated would be private, not public, giving the state no role in dictating their specific use.
Q: What can the faithful do to support the passage of LB295?
One important way is to be ready and willing to dispel confusion or misinformation surrounding the bill. I invite all Catholics in the archdiocese to connect with the Nebraska Catholic Conference, which serves as the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Nebraska. At their website (www.necatholic.org) you can find very clear and thorough resources on LB295 and sign up to receive email alerts.
I also suggest writing, emailing or calling your state senator to voice your support for the bill. LB295 will likely be debated in the Unicameral before the end of January.
As with all our efforts in the sphere of public policy, please pray for wisdom and prudence for all elected officials and for those who advocate on behalf of families.