A different kind of Sea of Red flooded the streets of the capital city in late April. Chants of “Go Big Red” were replaced with chants of “Red for Ed” as hundreds of educators, students and other public education supporters marched to the steps of the Nebraska State Capitol.

A high-spirited, pom-pom wielding crowd of NSEA delegates were greeted with enthusiastic honks from drivers as they made their way from the annual Delegate Assembly at the Cornhusker Hotel down Centennial Mall. In all, more than 400 Nebraskans gathered on the north steps of the State Capitol in a show of support for students, educators and public schools.

Public School Support
“This is a tremendous show of strength and support for Nebraska public schools,” NSEA President Jenni Benson said in her opening remarks to rally-goers. "We are here because we believe that public funds should be used to support public schools – your tax dollars should not be siphoned off to fund private schools!"

In mid-April, state legislators advanced LB753 to the third and final round of debate. The bill, introduced by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, would provide tax incentives to corporations and the wealthy for donations to scholarship funds for private and religious schools. A final vote on the bill is expected in the coming weeks.

The tax scheme in LB753 is costly and would grow exponentially if passed, taking funds that would otherwise be available to fund public schools and other state priorities. State Sen. George Dungan, Lincoln,  is among a cadre of lawmakers working to stop LB753.  Sen. Dungan, a product of Nebraska public schools himself, told the crowd at the rally, “I’m where I am today because of public schools and because dedicated teachers did everything to support me.”

Sen. Dungan said that Nebraska is unique in its continued refusal to divert public dollars to fund private schools. He explained in his remarks that when neighboring states—like Kansas—failed to fund public education, students and communities paid the ultimate price.
“I went to college in Kansas, and I was there when the Brownback experiment failed,” Sen. Dungan said.  “I was in Kansas when teachers couldn't get paid. I was in Kansas when schools couldn't open and there were kids that weren't in classrooms because the state had failed to fulfill its promise.”

Parents for Funding Public Schools
Nebraska already consistently ranks nearly last in the nation for state support of K-12 education and, as a result, has some of the highest property taxes in the country. Molly Gross, Legislative Director of the Nebraska Parent-Teacher Association, spoke directly to many educators in the crowd, thanking them for their dedication to students.  

“I want you to know that Nebraska PTA stands strong in support of keeping public funds for public schools,” Gross said. “We have not forgotten your Herculean efforts to continue educating our kids even through a worldwide pandemic.”

Gross said many parents believe the state should prioritize fully staffing and funding the K-12 schools that serve nine out of ten kids in Nebraska.  

“Nebraska taxpayers cannot afford to give $100 million away. That should be spent to support our public schools,” said Gross. “That money could be used to reduce class sizes. We all know that students learn faster and perform better in smaller classes.”

Private Schools Choose Their Students
Proponents of voucher schemes tout "choice" for families who can't afford private school tuition but LB753 is not about scholarships or helping children out of poverty. Speaking at the April rally, Dunixi Guereca, executive director of Stand For Schools, doubted that families get the ultimate "choice" under LB753.  

“This is not about giving students choice, it’s about giving schools choice. Choice to pick and choose the students that they serve, unlike our public schools that serve all students,” he said.

Private schools can choose to accept or reject any student, and many have long waiting lists and only admit top students. Private schools can also discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, citizen status, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or special education status.

"When I moved to Nebraska. I traveled to every corner of this state. There was something that stood out to me—a denominator that overcame political, geographical and generational divides and that was a love for our local schools," Guereca said. "By keeping public schools public, Nebraskans have managed to avoid the disasters we've seen in other states."

Vouchers are costly
Although proponents of school privatization promise the state will see savings, such savings have not been realized in other states. OpenSky Policy Institute Executive Director Rebecca Firestone shared the fiscal effect a similar voucher program had in Arizona.

"Arizona has had a scholarship tax credit program since 1998. It has ballooned in cost. It now costs Arizona $250 million a year," Firestone said.  

The first-year limit on the total amount of vouchers in LB753 is $25 million, and the cost to Nebraskans  could grow to $100 million under LB753.

Additionally, Firestone said research shows that these tax credits overwhelmingly benefit corporations and the wealthy while shifting the burden of funding critical programs and services to less affluent taxpayers.

“The evidence suggests that the people who are most likely to claim these tax credits are people who know to get first in line. Who are the people who know to get first in line when they're doing their taxes? People who can afford good accountants. Who can afford good accountants? The wealthy,” she said.

Don't be like Wisconsin, Be like Nebraska
National Education Association (NEA) Executive Committee member Duff Martin told those gathered for the rally that vouchers in his home state of Wisconsin have proven to be enormously expensive and ineffective at helping children in need.

“I know firsthand how vouchers are not working in Wisconsin since being introduced in 1990. Over 41% of the voucher schools have closed. The sad part of all this is we have them close in the middle of the night, pack up and shutter up their buildings. Those kids show up and there's no school. Why? They took our dollars and left our state. That kind of turnover is bad for kids,” he said.

Martin encouraged the crowd to keep fighting.

“Vouchers have failed miserably in Wisconsin. Be better, Nebraska,” Martin said. “Remember Nebraska—don't be Wisconsin. Be Nebraska.”

Not in Nebraska
Nebraskans are opposed to giving public dollars to private schools – they have rejected public funds for private schools at the ballot box on three separate occasions. Benson ended the rally with a call to action for those who support public education.

“If this legislature passes LB753, we will launch a statewide petition drive allowing Nebraskans—for a fourth time—to say no to giving their tax dollars to private schools,” Benson told the crowd.  “I’m asking each of you to sign up now to register your opposition to LB753. Let’s send a strong message to our Nebraska state senators: public funds for public schools!”

Sign the petition and email your senator to oppose LB753 at: