Words from the Superintendent: Nebraska Parents Enjoy Educational Opportunities

Thursday, January 24

By Dr. Michael Ashton, Superintendent

Today, hundreds of students and educators from across Nebraska gathered at the State Capitol to rally for National School Choice Week. Our Archdiocese of Omaha Schools delegation, which includes many students receiving scholarships to attend private school, were there speaking for themselves and the thousands of other students who weren’t so fortunate.

With National School Choice week taking place during the opening days of our state legislative session, we are reminded of the work ahead of us to ensure every child has the opportunity to choose an education that best suits his or her needs. Let us seize this opportunity to expand school choice policy in our state and to invest in Nebraska’s kids.

Thankfully, Nebraska families currently enjoy a wide array of education options: home district schools, magnet programs, private schools, homeschooling groups, parochial schools, and religious high schools. Some Nebraska districts also allow open enrollment, giving students the opportunity to attend public schools outside their traditional neighborhood boundaries.

What is true of Nebraska is even more true of Omaha. Many families take advantage of our various options, matching the educational needs of their children with the right educational setting. Unfortunately, many other families don’t have access to this same opportunity, often because of their socioeconomic status.

More expansive school choice policy would make a significant difference in the lives of parents and children who lack choice. But, like all good things, providing more educational opportunity for our children won’t come easy and is a task that belongs to all of us – educators, lawmakers, and members of the community alike.

As we seek to expand educational opportunity for families, all of us—but especially educators—can be confident that such efforts will contribute to our common goal: to provide learning environments that will graduate productive citizens with healthy minds and giving hearts. Educators in both public and private institutions can pursue more options for students knowing that school choice policy benefits all schools. ExcelinEd analyzed 33 studies examining the impact of school choice on public schools. Nearly all of these studies found that private school choice improves the educational outcomes of students who remain in public schools as well as the students who found their best educational fit. When we invest in kids through expanding school choice, all kids win.

Nebraska’s lawmakers also have an opportunity to invest in the education of children by further supporting and incentivizing donations that allow families in our poorest neighborhoods to enjoy the same educational options as everyone else. As the American Federation for Children summarizes, since 1990, 37 states have found ways to do this through scholarship tax credit legislation, while also saving their states millions of taxpayer dollars.

All Nebraskans, especially those of us fortunate enough to have enjoyed or currently enjoy educational choice, have the responsibility to help ensure other families share the same opportunities. In the Archdiocese of Omaha, we are blessed with the generosity of countless people who give thousands of children in under-served populations – families in poverty, non-English speaking families, students with learning disabilities – the ability to choose a private education.

However, there are more families demanding school choice than there is a supply for scholarship opportunities. Year after year, Children’s Scholarship Fund of Omaha distributes around 1,500 scholarships but still must turn away hundreds of students due to lack of funds.

As the demand for private education continues to rise, we must call on our elected officials to address the educational injustice facing low-income and working-class families and give more children a fighting chance.

As we celebrate National School Choice Week, may all educators, lawmakers, and Nebraskans notice those students who have been forgotten or left behind. And may we take the opportunity this legislative session to adopt school choice policy, and to invest decisively and strategically in the future of our state.