Nebraska and North Dakota, both longtime laggards, have made progress in recent days.
by Corey De Angelis, The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2023
On Wednesday, 33 Nebraska senators—precisely the number needed for cloture—voted to allow the Opportunity Scholarships Act to move forward, advancing a school-choice bill for the first time in the state’s history. The unicameral legislature subsequently advanced the bill by a vote of 31-12, with four members abstaining. The bill must pass the Senate twice more before going to the governor’s desk.
The Opportunity Scholarships Act would establish a tax credit to encourage donations for private-school scholarships up to about $7,000 a year to roughly 5,000 K-12 students in the state. Students in families below the federal poverty level would be a priority, as well as students with “exceptional needs,” those who have been bullied, are in the foster system, in military families or who have been denied the option to enroll their child in a public-school district where they don’t reside.
School choice has become a litmus test for the GOP, but it shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Recent polling from RealClear Opinion Research found that 82% of Republicans, 68% of Democrats and 67% of independents support school choice.
In Nebraska, three Democratic state senators listened to their constituents instead of the teachers unions. Sens. Mike McDonnell, Terrell McKinney and Justin Wayne cosponsored the bill and voted for its advancement. Messrs. McKinney and Wayne gave powerful floor speeches in which they called colleagues out for sending their own kids to private schools while opposing school choice for others. The bill wouldn’t have obtained enough votes for cloture had these senators not bucked their party’s trend and stood for parents and children.
The school-choice bill’s fate in the coming two votes isn’t clear, but the issue’s momentum is. Gov. Jim Pillen, a strong school-choice supporter, praised the bill’s advancement.
Nebraska is one of only two states without school choice in the form of either charter schools or programs that help families pay for private-school tuition. The other is North Dakota. But that may change this year, too, as the state’s House passed a private-school choice bill last month. This week Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a school-choice bill, making Arkansas the fifth state to pass universal school choice in the past two years. Iowa and Utah also did so this year, making 2023 a record year for school choice.
Mr. DeAngelis is a senior fellow at the American Federation for Children.