Vouchers Divert Funding, Shortchange Kids in Poverty

LB608 is Scheme to Take Tax Dollars From Public Schools

When addressing vouchers, NSEA delivered two messages as the Legislature’s Education Committee considered LB608.

Both messages were clear: vouchers harm public schools.

Retired Omaha Education Association member Cheryl Goodwillie said the voucher plan in LB608 would drain funds from an already shallow public school revenue stream.

NSEA Organizational Specialist Jay Sears told senators that diverting public tax revenues to private and for-profit schools circumvents the clear intent of Nebraska’s Constitution.

Goodwillie taught for 33 years in Omaha, with 15 years at Western Hills University Partnership Magnet School, where 65 percent of students were in the free and reduced lunch program.

“Many of these students need enrichment to build background knowledge and vocabulary that children from wealthier backgrounds receive at home through their many trips to zoos, museums, family trips, and, especially, exposure to books and reading,” she said.

Public magnet schools and academies provide that enrichment for children in poverty, she said. However, siphoning public school tax revenues to private schools through a voucher program would stymie the ability of public schools, especially those meeting the needs of low-income populations, to provide the extra help such students need.

Sears agreed, but took a slightly different approach.

“Whether it’s so-called parental choice scholarships, opportunity scholarships, tuition tax credits or deductions, or education savings accounts, the public tax dollars to cover all of these voucher programs has to come from somewhere,” said Sears. “It’s usually taken away from the vast majority of students – more than 307,000 of them – who attend Nebraska’s public schools.”

Sears pointed out that the state’s constitution allows the Legislature to “provide for the education of other persons in educational institutions owned and controlled by the state or a political subdivision thereof.”

Nowhere in the state’s constitution, said Sears, does it say the state shall provide for the education of students in private or for-profit schools.

“LB608,” he pointed out, “would divert state and local public tax dollars to private schools.”

Sears also noted that the state requires accountability for public schools.

“There is no such accountability system for private schools,” he said. “There is no guarantee that the public school funding that would follow a student to a private school would go to a high performing school.”

Goodwillie closed by asking senators to ensure every Nebraska child has access to a quality public school.

“Taking public funds and giving them to a private school only serves to hurt students and our public schools,” she said.

Sears urged senators to kill LB608.