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Don't divert public funds to private schools

As published in the Lincoln Journal Star.

Last week, the Journal Star ran an opinion piece by a lawyer ("Case could grow school choice," Oct. 24) suggesting that a pending Montana case before the U.S. Supreme Court should have Nebraska rethink how it funds K-12 education.

The writer supports using public tax dollars to fund private K-12 tuition. Our state should do nothing of the sort.

First, public schools in Nebraska perform very well nationally. For example, we score in the top 10 in most subjects on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a standardized test used since the 1960s that is the only exam designed to compare between states and through time.

LB670, a scholarship tax credit bill introduced in 2019, did not pass last session because it was bad policy. A Supreme Court decision won’t change that.

The bill would have allowed donors to private school scholarship funds to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on their donations — a perk we don’t provide for any other type of charitable giving, whether to cancer research, churches or food banks. The measure would have cost the state $10 million in its first year, likely growing by 25% annually to $93 million per year within 10 years, with no ultimate cap.

Proponents of the bill have claimed, through magical thinking, that this proposal wouldn’t hurt public schools. But any realistic observer of the state’s finances knows that $93 million per year within 10 years has to come from somewhere, and to think that public school funding won’t be impacted is naïve at best and deeply disingenuous at worst. State senators knew this last session and made a wise choice when they did not advance LB670.

Nebraska ranks 49th in the nation for state funding to education, according to the a report by the OpenSky Policy Institute, with a heavy overreliance on local property taxes. Accordingly, LB670 would take us in the wrong direction. Any Nebraskan who supports property tax reform should oppose school privatization for this reason alone.

Just last month, our organization, Stand For Schools, visited Bayard, Scottsbluff, North Platte and Lexington. In each of those communities, we saw public schools working hard to meet growing student needs and preparing them to succeed.

In each of the districts we visited, more than half the students live in poverty, as based on the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. Yet all have graduation rates above 90%.

Leaders in every district talked about student mental and behavioral health as their No. 1 unmet need. Many times, when students struggle with emotional, behavioral and mental health disorders, they act out in class — and school districts, especially in the western part of the state — have limited resources to meet the needs of those students.

Instead of redirecting funds away from public schools toward private schools, we need to focus on meeting the growing needs of our public school students. That is our promise and our obligation as taxpayers — to take care of the children in our state. And we need to remember that public schools are the only schools that serve all kids.


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