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Critics: Scholarship Bill Offers Students False Choice

Nebraska lawmakers are considering a bill that would give companies and individuals a big incentive to contribute to organizations that fund private-school scholarships. (Pixabay)
Nebraska lawmakers are considering a bill that would give companies and individuals a big incentive to contribute to organizations that fund private-school scholarships. (Pixabay)
April 22, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. – A proposal making its way through the Nebraska Legislature would provide dollar for dollar tax credits to corporations and individuals who contribute to scholarship funds for private schools.

But Ann Hunter-Pirtle, executive director of the public schools advocacy group Stand for Schools, warns the measure would end up draining the state's tax coffers of money needed for roads, health care, public schools and other priorities.

She adds that similar programs at work in Arizona and Georgia suggest that LB 670 would be a bad investment.

"We have years of data that we can look at from other states to show that not only do students attending a private school on a scholarship under a program like this not make improvements in their academic success, but in many states they actually do worse than students in public schools," she points out.

Contributions to nonprofit groups and charities allow individuals to reduce their taxable income, but tax credits for private school scholarships under the proposal would allow companies and individuals to reduce up to 50 percent of their overall tax bill.

Hunter-Pirtle says lawmakers currently are considering lowering Nebraska's school funding formula by $38 million, and notes the state has only been able to fully fund public schools in three of the past 16 years.

Proponents of LB 670 maintain the move would increase educational opportunities, especially for Nebraska's low-income families.

However, Hunter-Pirtle says similar programs at work in other states have not made good on promises to benefit low-income students.

She says the program would allow a family of four that makes just under $95,000 a year, a group in the top 40 percent of the state's earners, to send children to private school on the state's dime.

"Over time, the main beneficiaries of these scholarships are students who either were already in private school, or those whose families could have afforded to send them there anyway," she states.

The program would cost $10 million in the first year, and Hunter-Pirtle adds that number could swell to $93 million a year within 10 years if 90 percent of the credit is tapped annually by donors.

She warns that if the state loses that kind of revenue, the only way to keep public schools open would be to increase property taxes.

LB 670 has cleared the state's Revenue Committee and could be heard by the full legislature as early as this week.

Disclosure: Coalition for a Strong Nebraska contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Livable Wages/Working Families, Poverty Issues, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE