Bills Education Legislature Nebraska Politics

LB670: The Kolowski Amendments

Though we don’t know exactly when, the big day for LB670, the “Opportunities Scholars Act”, is coming soon. In what might perhaps be the best amendment troll of this legislative session, Senator Kolowski is seeking to strike the word “opportunity” from the whole document and replace it with the words “private school.” Why? Because it actually should be called the “Private School Scholars act” and they know that won’t fly in Nebraska because we LOVE our public schools which provide so many opportunities for our youth.

Just for some background, this bill comes up every year, and every year private school children are taken out of their classes to be used as partisan props. This is just smoke and mirrors to try to make it seem like there is public support when there is not. Nebraskans LOVE public schools. There is a rich history of boosting rallies (like the anti-choice ones here in this state and nationally) with private school kids because their schools aren’t held accountable for taking them OUT for classes or for any number of hours of curriculum.

Seeing Red has covered how this bill was driven by ALEC as a billionaire welfare bill in the past (see here) and covered their doublespeak (see here). LB670 was just discussed at length in our School Daze podcast.

As a quick recap, this bill is deeply problematic for numerous reasons, all carefully hidden within a rhetoric of “choice” and “opportunity.” The proponents will tell you they are supporting this bill because they care deeply about parental  “choice” when in reality they don’t even support women’s choice to have autonomy over their own bodies. This rhetoric is a cover. Senator Kolowski knows it is a cover, which is why this amendment is so perfect. A bill by any other name would smell as rancid.

On the left, Ricketts’s rotten billionaire welfare “school choice” apple. On the right, the apple you should take to your hardworking public school teacher tomorrow.

Senator Linehan made this her priority bill this year, and she has been its sponsor in the past. In past years, it never has made it out of the education committee. Senators on the education committee, like the vast majority of Nebraskans, love public schools. But this year, they pulled a dirty trick and put it in the revenue committee. Why? Because the revenue committee has a lot more of Ricketts’s senators who clearly do not value Nebraska public schools like their constituents. I mean, you’d think they would value revenue given the committee name, but no. The revenue committee in this case was quite supportive of a bill that would systematically ROB REVENUE from our state. Yes, reverse robin hood Ricketts style.

You may ask yourself, why has Senator Linehan been so persistent with this bill? First, the Ricketts family loves it because it makes Papa Joe Ricketts and his billionaire friends richer. This is striaght out of the Koch playbook on how to get rich by privatizing public services. They love skimming off your tax dollars for a profit in prisons, in child welfare, and especially in public schools. It doesn’t just take revenue, though, it turns into a federal tax write off where billionaires ACTUALLY TURN A PROFIT off the backs of the 99%.

And it is no surprise that year after year after year, it is Senator Linehan who champions this bill. She has taken $12,500 from Joe and Pete Ricketts and Susanne Shore. If that weren’t enough, her daughter is employed in the private school industry. Can you say conflict of interest?

But there are more reasons why this bill is toxic. Their long game isn’t just billionaire welfare freeloading by paying NO taxes NOR a steady stream of taxpayer funded revenue lining their pockets.  NO, the next motive for LB670 also has (not surprisingly) nothing do with “choice” or “opportunity.” It was best stated in the hearing for the SAME bill in 2018 session education committee hearing by the Notorious PPB (Patty Pansing Brooks). Senator Pansing Brook eloquently pointed out (while rudely interrupted by Senator Groene) that these “schools” will have no regulations and no financial incentive to billionaire backers to admit students with intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, or who need ELL services.  They get to pick and choose the most profitable students to skew their scores.  They don’t believe in public education where ALL means ALL. They have no financial incentive to meet the needs of every Nebraska child. No. They pick and choose the most profitable children, and they exclude any child with special needs because, as she put it, you just can’t make a dollar off those kids.

So, the Private Schools tax write off/billionaire welfare bill will be the first step in creating a two tier system. This is where Kolowski’s second amendment to this bill comes in. This amendment says that any school that benefits from these scholarships can’t DISCRIMINATE based on any criteria at all. It is pure genius because, again, it gets at the heart of the ill will behind LB670. We will see this week how the disingenuous proponents of this bill handle Kolowski’s pickle he has put them in. Because at least this time, these amendments will make them have to be HONEST about their intent.

Seeing Red tips their hat to Senator Kolowski for what may be an Ernie Chambers level amendment trolling of a toxic bill for Nebraska public schools.