During each Legislative session, we schedule several recess days to allow Senators to return home to their communities and hear from their constituents. During Friday’s recess day, I met with nine of the school superintendents from Legislative District 24. I have also been hearing from quite a few constituents regarding several bills in the legislature that deal with education in Nebraska and I wanted to hear their perspectives. This includes bills that create independent public schools, school voucher programs, expanding educational savings plans for private school tuition and tax credits for private school scholarship donations.
Several of these bills were introduced last year and have been carried over to this session including LB608, LB630 and LB295.
LB608 would provide a scholarship to a student attending a public school with the lowest performance level established by the Nebraska Department of Education. The student would then be able to use the scholarship to enroll in a private school. LB630 would allow the creation of independent public schools that would operate under separate boards from public school districts and would be exempt from most state education rules and regulations. The state would provide funding for the scholarships and independent schools. Neither bill has advanced out of the Education Committee.
LB295 was also introduced last year and would create a nonrefundable tax credit for individuals and entities who donate money to nonprofit organizations that grant scholarships for students to attend private elementary or secondary schools in Nebraska. The bill limits the total amount of the credit to $10 million for 2018 and allows a 25% annual increase every year if most of the credits are claimed. Eligibility for the scholarships would be limited to students from a household with an income less than twice the required level of the federal reduced-price lunch program. While the Revenue Committee advanced this bill, it has not been placed on the General File calendar.
Introduced this year, LB804 would expand the list of qualified expenses for Nebraska’s Education Savings Trust Plan in 2020 to include tuition to public, private and parochial elementary or secondary schools. Currently, only withdrawals from 529 accounts for qualified higher education expenses are exempt from state and federal taxes. The Revenue Committee has not advanced this bill.
It is my belief that since the State of Nebraska requires all children to attend school, it is our obligation to ensure that public schools are adequately funded to provide a good, quality education. I believe that public schools across the state are above average in comparison to other states. Many parents have the option of sending their children to private school now, it is just not subsidized by the government.
My two daughters attended parochial school through their elementary years. They attended public high schools following elementary school before attending private colleges, so I have experience with both institutes of learning. My wife and I were pleased with all their years of education. I struggle with this issue a lot, because I truly believe in the value of a Christian based education and see how vouchers can be a part of making that possible for families. At the same time, I also know that my wife and I made a very conscientious decision to send our children to a parochial school fully knowing that it would be a sacrifice within our family to be able to afford it. Yes, it was going to cost us money to both pay taxes towards the public schools and the tuition for the parochial school, but that was a decision we made because we thought it was worth the investment.
At this time, I am not sure which bills will advance to the full legislature for debate. I would not support the creation of voucher programs for public education or the creation of charter schools in Nebraska. However, I am supportive of expanding educational savings plans for private school tuition and tax credits for private school scholarship donations. Neither bill would alter local or state aid to public school districts.
As always, if we can be of assistance to you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact my office. My door is open and I have made it a goal to be accessible to the constituents of our district. Please stop by any time. My e-mail address is email@example.com, and the office phone number is 402-471-2756. Todd and Katie are always available to assist you with your needs. If I am not immediately available, please do not hesitate to work with them to address any issues that you may need assistance. Please continue to follow me on Facebook at Kolterman for Legislature and on Twitter at @KoltermanforLegislature.