OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - A proposal to indirectly subsidize private K-12 schools in Nebraska by offering tax credits to scholarship donors stalled on Wednesday after opponents blocked the measure with a filibuster.
Backers in the Legislature fell four votes short of the 33 they needed to force a vote on the bill, which effectively sidelines it for the rest of this year’s session.
Supporters pitched the measure as a way to give low-income students more choices if a public school doesn’t meet their needs, but the measure drew sharp opposition from others lawmakers, who argued it would divert tax dollars away from K-12 public schools and other priorities.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha, said she was willing to compromise with further limits on the benefits taxpayers could claim and a possible expiration date for the program, but she complained that lawmakers were using parliamentary tactics to keep those changes from coming to a vote.
“A child’s opportunity for an education should not be determined by a family’s income or ZIP code,” Linehan said.
The bill would allow donors to claim a dollar-for-dollar tax credit equal to their total contribution, up to half of their total tax liability for the year. Donors also could also carry forward unclaimed portions of the credit and apply them to their tax bills over the next five years. The total credit available would be capped at $5 million a year.
The credit would be nonrefundable, so donors couldn’t use it to get money back from the government.
Sen. Justine Wayne, of Omaha, said the tax credit would create an incentive for donors to contribute and open up more educational opportunities to students who are struggling in public schools but can’t afford to leave.
“What we’re doing right now is not working,” Wayne said. “It’s time to start upsetting the apple cart to make change.”
Opponents blasted the measure as a tax benefit that favors the wealthy, who have more disposable income to donate. They also painted it as a backdoor way to steer public money into private schools, an idea that hasn’t gained much traction despite Nebraska’s conservative leanings.
“If families choose to send their children to these schools, that’s their prerogative,” said Sen. Megan Hunt, of Omaha. “But don’t make the state subsidize these schools.”
Sen. Wendy DeBoer, of Omaha, said tax credits aren’t as transparent as a direct payment from the government, and she noted that the credit would be far more generous than other tax write-offs for donations to churches, food pantries and other charities. DeBoer said the bill would effectively allow donors to dictate how the government spends part of their tax money.
“If I wanted to give 50% of my tax liability to build roads, or to work on property taxes, or anything like that, I don’t have that option,” DeBoer said. “I can’t tell the government how to spend 50% of my tax liability, but we’re setting that up here, and I can’t get over that.”
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