Nebraska’s “Opportunity Scholarships Act” sparks petition drive to place the law on the ballot in 2024

Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 8:47 PM CDT
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SIOUX CITY (KTIV) - A coalition of organizations, including public school groups, have begun a petition drive to ask Nebraskans whether a new law should stay, or go.

The law, known as the “Opportunity Scholarships Act”, will allow people who donate to accredited private schools the opportunity to get a 50-percent tax credit up to $100,000. That’s according to the Nebraska Catholic Conference. For example, if a Nebraska resident donates $5,000 to a private school, they’d get $2,500 back from the state come tax time. The law is meant to spur scholarships for students who otherwise couldn’t attend private schools.

Nebraska non-profits launched that petition drive in Wayne, on Thursday.

“I have been very concerned that we as a society we are moving towards exclusion instead of inclusion,” said Carol Frey is a former teacher and current Thurston County resident who signed the petition. Frey believes the “Opportunity Scholarships Act” won’t benefit education in the state of Nebraska. “If it were that it would be a positive, but it’ll be a cold day in Hell before that happens.”

The public was invited to learn more about the “Opportunity Scholarships Act” and could then decide if they want to support the petition to put it on the ballot. “This is not a decision. I want the people of the state to become educated between now and then and vote their conscience, what they think,” said Brad Grier, a Dakota County resident.

Around 60,000 verified signatures are required to put the petition on the ballot. Along with the signatures, supporters need at least 5-percent of registered voters from at least 38 of the state’s 93 counties to sign it. “We are seeing a lot of people who are coming to sign today offering to help spread the word and take petitions and get signers in their areas too,” said Sandy Brown, a Wayne County resident, and volunteer for the petition drive.

Those, who favor the petition, say it’s an opportunity to hold lawmakers in Nebraska accountable. “Democracy cannot function unless we have the input of the governed, and I believe the Nebraska legislature has totally shut down the voices of who they don’t want to listen to,” said Frey.

The deadline to submit petitions is September. If it qualifies, the measure will make it onto the November 2024 ballot.

The 33 Nebraska state senators, who helped pass the bill, have expressed their disappointment in the petition drive to put a ballot initiative to a public vote. In a letter they all signed, the senators say the ballot initiative would deny opportunities to vulnerable and at-risk children. The senators insist, “children are our future, and we must invest in them”.

The Nebraska Catholic Conference has also criticized the attempt to repeal the school choice law. The organization’s executive director blasted the move saying the Nebraska State Education Association doesn’t respect parents as the primary educators of their kids. The statement says, “The teachers union is literally stripping educational opportunities out of the hands of low-income students, military families, students with disabilities, kids who’ve been bullied, and children in the foster care system”.