In Nebraska, a teachers’-union-backed ballot initiative that would roll back education freedom is underway, relying on misinformation and fearmongering to persuade voters.

Front group Save Our Schools is on a mission to rescind the Opportunity Scholarships Act, the first school choice program in Nebraska’s history. The legislation, passed in May, committed $50 million in tax credits for scholarships to kids across Nebraska. It’s means-tested, said Katie Linehan, communications director with the American Federation for Children (AFC), meaning it prioritizes low-income children. It also takes into account adverse life circumstances such as foster care, special needs, and harassment. 

“This legislation is a historic step forward for the state of Nebraska,” Governor Jim Pillen said when he signed the measure. “Our kids are our future, and we all believe that every Nebraska kid should have the opportunity to have their educational needs met, whether they live in Omaha or Scottsbluff. This law ensures that we are funding students, not systems.”

To put the program to a referendum in the next general election, Save Our Schools must collect signatures from 5% of registered voters in 38 counties, adding up to about 61,000 residents. They’ve had some help from one notorious interest group. The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union and a progressive powerhouse, donated $800,000 to the effort, according to tax filings obtained by Corey DeAngelis of AFC. The treasurer of “Save Our Schools” is Tim Royers, a local Nebraska teachers’ union president. 

Teachers’ unions know school choice isn’t a threat to children. The high test scores and parental satisfaction coming out of alternative schools are a testament to the fact that school choice works. It is, however, a threat to the public education monopoly that teachers’ unions thrive on. Since they can’t win the argument against school choice on the merits, the unions are resorting to misrepresentation of the Nebraska program in order to capture support.

DeAngelis recently caught up with Nebraska parent and activist Clarice Jackson, who confronted Royers on his anti-school choice position, asking: “Am I supposed to sit there and watch my daughter suffer . . . because you don’t agree with somebody giving my daughter an opportunity scholarship?”

While out shopping, Jackson said an SOS petitioner claimed to her that the teachers’ union initiative to repeal the school choice program would give scholarships to low-income children, DeAngelis recounted. The petition would do the exact opposite, denying scholarships to the state’s disadvantaged children and preventing them from attending a school that serves their needs. 

A petitioner told another Nebraskan that the program only benefits wealthy families. To combat SOS’s false reporting, a counter-movement called Keep Kids First has a website where Nebraskans can pledge to “decline to sign” the union’s repeal effort. 

Like many other states, Nebraska’s students suffered serious learning loss over the pandemic due to school shutdowns pushed by teachers’ unions. Rather than invest money and energy into recovering those massive deficits, teachers’ unions in Nebraska are “spending the summer trying to prevent low-income kids from having another option,” Linehan told me.