Repeal of a dead law to use public funds for private school tuition won’t be on Nebraska’s ballot

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A measure to repeal a now-defunct law passed last year that would use public money to fund private school tuition has been pulled from Nebraska’s November ballot, the secretary of state announced Thursday.

Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen said he’s pulling from the ballot a measure to repeal the law that would have allowed corporations and individuals to divert millions of dollars in state income taxes they owed to nonprofit organizations that would award private school tuition scholarships. The law was largely supported by Republicans who dominate the officially nonpartisan state Legislature and statewide elected offices.

The Nebraska Legislature repealed and replaced that this year with a new law that cuts out the income tax diversion plan. It instead funds private school tuition scholarships directly from state coffers.

“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 in a statement.

Evnen said he made the decision in consultation with fellow Republican Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers, who has expressed support for the private school funding measures.

Last year’s measure triggered an immediate pushback from public school advocates who blasted it as a “school voucher scheme” that would hurt Nebraska’s public schools and would send public money to private schools that are allowed under religious tenets to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students.

Supporters have argued that it gives students and parents who find their public school failing them the choice to transfer to a private school they might not otherwise be able to afford.

Critics organized a petition drive last year to ask voters to repeal the law, and the drive collected far more signatures than needed to get it on the November ballot.

The author of the private school funding law, Republican Omaha Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, returned this year with the new proposal to directly fund the private school scholarships after acknowledging that voters might reject the tax-credit funding plan. The new law passed on the last day of this year’s legislative session with just enough votes to break a filibuster.

The move drew renewed protests from opponents, who have embarked on another signature-gathering petition effort asking voters to repeal the new private school funding law. They have until July 17 to collect about 90,000 signatures of registered voters across the state.

The petition group, Support Our Schools Nebraska, referenced Linehan’s public hearing testimony earlier this year in which she called her proposal to directly fund private school tuition an “end-run” around last year’s successful petition drive.

“This is exactly why voters need to sign the new petition,” Jenni Benson, a Support Our Schools sponsor and president of the state’s largest public school teachers union, said in a written statement. “Nebraskans must protect their voice — their right to vote on this issue. We cannot allow politicians to impose this costly private school voucher scheme on taxpayers while denying Nebraskans the right to vote on the issue.”

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