Nebraska state Sen. Lou Ann Linehan speaks at a school choice rally about a tax credit scholarship bill she introduced in January.

For years, school choice bills introduced in the Nebraska Legislature have gotten no traction. Now, one has.

The Opportunity Scholarship Act, introduced by state Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, R-Elkhorn, won approval by the Revenue Committee of the Nebraska Legislature on a 5-3 vote. The bill would provide more education opportunities to low-income children by giving tax credits to those who donate money for scholarships to private and parochial schools.

School choice advocates hailed the vote, commending Linehan for championing it.

“We have among the largest achievement gaps in the nation between white and Black children in Nebraska; in some schools, less than 20% of children are proficient in math and reading,” said Clarice Jackson, President of Nebraska Parents Coalition. “Families are desperate for options. The Opportunity Scholarships Act is an answer to the prayers of parents and the needs of children.”

Rachel Terry, founder of the nonprofit group School Choice Nebraska, said the affirmative vote for school choice in Nebraska is “promising.”

“I think it’s probably because so many parents have had a wake-up call this year,” Terry said. “The schools aren’t terribly responsive to them. They don’t have an incentive to be responsive. Parents don’t have much political clout or power.”

Terry, who moved with her family to Nebraska from Colorado in 2012, was dismayed at the lack of school choice in Nebraska at that time. She launched School Choice Nebraska to help parents understand what school choice could look like.

“I am contacted a lot by parents who don’t know what to do,” she said. “There are so many situations where regular schools aren’t working. It’s not just COVID-19. It could be special needs or that the school doesn’t offer what the schools are interested in or the pacing of learning isn’t right. School choice is helpful all the time.”

Linehan introduced LB364 in January with 14 other senators co-sponsoring. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has lent support by allocating $2 million a year for two years in his proposed budget.

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