Opportunity Scholarships Act repeal is pulled from ballot after LB 1402 adopted

Opportunity Scholarships Act repeal is pulled from ballot after LB 1402 adopted
Last fall, teachers and other backers of Support Our Schools wheel out boxes of voter-signed petitions seeking to repeal the Opportunity Scholarships Act on the 2024 ballot. The vote would be cancelled if a new Opportunity Scholarship Act is passed by the 2024 Legislature, a move some have called “underhanded.” (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)
May 17th, 2024 | Aaron Sanderford, Nebraska Examiner

LINCOLN — Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen on Thursday made official what the Legislature already made obvious: that there will be no need to vote this November on the repeal of the original Opportunity Scholarships Act.

A conservative majority in the officially nonpartisan Legislature redesigned and repealed the initial tax credit for donors to scholarships for private K-12 education, State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan’s Legislative Bill 753 from 2023. State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, center, talks with State Sen. Beau Ballard of Lincoln. April 10, 2024. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Unions representing public school teachers and Nebraskans who want public funds spent only on public schools had petitioned to give voters a chance to repeal that version of the law. Polling indicated they were likely to do so.

Lawmakers seeking to protect the point of the school choice law sidestepped the petition effort this year by repealing LB 753 as part of creating a more direct $10 million annual appropriation for private K-12 scholarships or vouchers in Legislative Bill 1402.

Families need a choice, Linehan says

Linehan acknowledged as much during debate. However, she said she was also trying to address many of the most common public criticisms of the scholarship tax credit, including that it seemed to benefit donors with a dollar-for-dollar credit.

She and other voucher advocates have said students and families who aren’t succeeding in the public school system where they live need options that might work better for them.

Opponents of both measures, including Support Our Schools Nebraska and the Nebraska State Education Association, said they would not let senators avoid voters and have launched a second petition drive, this one against LB 1402.

They want voters to weigh in on whether the state should spend tax dollars on private K-12 education. Organizers argue that funding private education poses a long-term risk to state general funds for other services, including public schools.

Consulted with attorney general

Support Our Schools has until July 17 to gather signatures for the ballot initiative against LB 1402. They’ll have to gather valid signatures from 5% of Nebraska’s registered voters and gather 5% in at least 38 of Nebraska’s 93 counties.

Evnen, in announcing his decision Thursday, said the adoption of LB 1402 will repeal LB 753 on July 19, rendering any vote on that measure moot. He said he consulted with the Attorney General’s Office before making the decision.

“Since the previous law will no longer be in effect by the time of the general election, I do not intend to place the original referendum on the ballot,” Evnen said.

The newest petition language would repeal the section of LB 1402 creating the new version of the scholarship or voucher program. The section of LB 1402 that repeals LB 753 would remain in state law.

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