State: Nebraska

Nebraska’s “Opportunity Scholarships Act” creates state’s first private school scholarship

It’s a historic year for K-12 education in Nebraska. Lawmakers just passed the Opportunity Scholarships Act, the first state-run K-12 private school choice program in the Cornhusker State. This new scholarship aims to make private schooling an affordable choice for all Nebraska families in need. 

What is the Opportunity Scholarships Act?

The Opportunity Scholarships Act is a bill signed into law by Governor Pillen. The bill creates a scholarship program to support low-income families in Nebraska who wish to send their children to nonpublic schools. 

How will the program work? The bill sets aside $25 million per year in tax credits for taxpayers who donate to non-profit Scholarship Granting Organizations. In other words, taxpayers who give to a Scholarship Granting Organization can receive a reduction on their tax bill. The Scholarship Granting Organizations will then use the donations to give private school scholarships to eligible families in need. In short, this is a “tax-credit scholarship program,” similar to ones already in places in Nebraska’s neighbors Kansas and Iowa. The tax credits will be available beginning in 2024.

While other states have tax-credit scholarships, this program is the first of its kind in Nebraska. 

Who can apply to the Nebraska Opportunity Scholarships program?

The goal of Nebraska’s new scholarship program is to offer low-income and middle-income families a school choice they otherwise couldn’t afford. Lawmakers estimate that the new scholarship program will allow about 5,000 additional students to choose private schools in Nebraska. 

The Opportunity Scholarships program is designed to serve families in need. Once the program is up and running, it will prioritize serving students already receiving scholarships, as well as their siblings.

Next, the program gives priority to children from the lowest-income families (students from families that earn up to 100% of the federal poverty level), as well as eligible students with special needs, experiencing bullying, in foster care, denied option enrollment, or with a parent or guardian actively serving in the armed forces or National Guard.

After these applicants receive scholarships, organizations will continue to prioritize applicants according to income. Scholarship organizations will give final priority to students from families earning up to 300% of the federal Free and Reduced Lunch rate.

In most cases, a student must either 1) be transferring from a public school, or 2) be entering kindergarten or ninth grade in order to apply. However, in future years, students already receiving a scholarship, and siblings of students who are already receiving a scholarship, will not need to meet either of those requirements. 

To receive a scholarship, eligible families will apply to a Scholarship Granting Organization. These non-profit organizations will manage the distribution of scholarships and help walk families through the application process.

How much is the Opportunity Scholarships amount and where can families use their scholarship?

Opportunity Scholarships will provide families up to about $9,200, which is about 75% of state per-pupil funding in Nebraska.

Families can use their scholarship at any qualified private school in Nebraska. This means a nonpublic elementary or secondary school in the state that meets all health and safety codes and anti-discrimination provisions, and that fulfills the approval requirements of Nebraska’s State Board of Education.

Nebraska offers many private school options. While Nebraska is a rural state, a 2023 analysis of students in grades K-12 found that 77% of all Nebraska students in grades K-12 live within a 10-minute drive of at least one private school, and 90% live within a 20-minute drive of at least one private school. 

When can families apply for the scholarship?

Nebraska’s Opportunity Scholarship application is now open for families for the 2024-2025 school year! To apply, families can contact their local school. Find more information, eligibility requirements, and the list of participating schools at the Nebraska Opportunity Scholarship.

How much can taxpayers donate to the scholarship?

Nebraska community members, estates, trusts, and corporations can claim an income tax credit of up to half of their state income tax liability on donations to Scholarship Granting Organizations. Donations from individuals and corporations are capped at $100,000

When someone donates to a scholarship granting organization, they cannot designate that funds go to any particular student. Scholarship organizations will use the funds according to the prioritization guidelines outlined above. 

Where to learn more

Nebraska’s new Opportunity Scholarships program acknowledges that public schooling and homeschooling won’t be the best fits for every child. Some children need a private school classroom to thrive, whether that’s because they learn better with smaller class sizes or because a private school offers the learning experience most in line with their family’s values.

If you’d like to learn more about Opportunity Scholarships, you can keep an eye out for updates at the Nebraska Department of Education, Nebraska Opportunity Scholarship or reach out to American Federation for Children – Nebraska for more information. 

*March 2024 Legal Update: Note that a petition has gathered enough signatures to put this bill to a vote in the November 2024 general election ballot. So, a repeal of the Opportunity Scholarships, while unlikely, is possible. Check back for updates! 

Nebraska State Guide

Choosing a school? You’ve got options.

Each spring, parents face one of the biggest decisions they can make for their child’s future: What school environment will their child spend about 1,000 hours in next year? 

Making that decision with confidence starts with knowing what options you have; you may have more school choices than you realize! Understanding these options can help you find a school where your child grows and learns to the best of their ability. Nebraska families can choose from traditional public schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning, homeschooling, and microschooling and mix-and-match learning.

Interested in learning more about Nebraska’s Opportunity Scholarship program? Check out our deep dive blog on the Opportunity Scholarships Act!

Nebraska Traditional Public Schools

Most children (86.8% of all K-12 students) in Nebraska attend traditional public schools. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by taxpayers like you. Each year, Nebraska spends an average of $13,826 per public school student. You can search your school’s spending and that of nearby schools at Project Nickel.

Nebraska has flexible open enrollment for public schools. What this means is that you are likely able to send your child to any public district in Nebraska, regardless of where you live or where the school is located. For a real-world example, see how Grand Island Public Schools accepts students outside of the city’s limits. You can take advantage of this option by visiting multiple public schools and discovering which is the best fit for your family. You can also read the Nebraska Department of Education’s answers to frequently asked questions about switching school districts in your state.

In 2023, Nebraska improved transparency about open enrollment, signing a bill requiring school districts to post their open enrollment policies on their websites.

When a student uses open enrollment in Nebraska, transportation is typically the responsibility of the parents or provided by the receiving district for a fee, unless the student is eligible for free or reduced price lunch, part of a diversity focus program, or a student with learning disabilities, in which case transportation is typically free.

Find out more about public schools in your state at the Nebraska Department of Education. You can also read more about Nebraska open enrollment at “Public Schools Without Boundaries: A 50-State Ranking.”

Nebraska Charter Schools

Nebraska currently does not have any public charter schools, but charters may be in Nebraska’s future! Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are allowed extra freedom to innovate while being held accountable for student achievement. Nebraska is one of only four states that have not passed laws allowing for the creation of public charter schools. 

Nebraska Magnet Schools

Magnet schools are free public schools that allow kids to narrow in on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the performing arts. At a magnet school, all the subjects are taught through the lenses of that specific track. Nebraska has a handful of magnet schools scattered throughout the state, and these might be a good option if your child learns best by focusing in on a subject they are passionate about. For instance, Omaha Public Schools has both elementary school magnet programs (like Conestoga Elementary School) and high school magnet programs (like Benson Magnet High School).  

Nebraska Private Schools

Families in Nebraska can also consider private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools may offer a unique curriculum, smaller class sizes, or a faith-based tradition. Nebraska’s more than 220 private schools come in all shapes and forms, from religious schools to schools designed for children with special needs.  In Nebraska, 10% of all K-12 students attend a private school.

The average tuition for private schools in the state is $3,610 for elementary schools and $7,880 for high schools.

To help all families access private school, Nebraska passed its first state-run private school choice scholarship program in 2023. Starting in 2024, low-income students will be able to participate in this new Opportunity Scholarships program. The program will provide scholarships of up to about $9,000 to children in need who wish to choose an approved private school. Read more in our full explainer!

Additionally, the federal government does allow parents in all 50 states to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts.

Learn more at Children’s Scholarship Fund-Omaha and Private School Review: Nebraska.

Nebraska Online Learning

Whether your child wants to accelerate his or her learning or needs a quieter environment in which to focus, you may be interested in giving virtual school a try. 

While the majority of states have free, public online programs available to families statewide, Nebraska does not currently have that option. But, families can choose a paid option: University of Nebraska High School Online. Other paid options, like George Washington University Online High SchoolThe Keystone School, Excel High School, and K12 Private Academy, are also available to Nebraska families but are not state-specific. Families interested in enrolling at University of Nebraska High School Online can do so at any point during the year; there is no deadline for enrollment. 

Additionally, some districts are developing their own online programs for students. For example, Lincoln Consolidated Schools students can choose the fully online LCS Virtual Academy. Omaha Public Schools offers local students Omaha Virtual School, a blended learning program that incorporates both in-person sessions and at-home online classes. 

To read more about online learning in Nebraska, check out the Digital Learning Collaborative’s state profile.

Nebraska Homeschooling

Nebraska families can also choose to homeschool their children, which allows for a highly customizable and personalized learning experience. Homeschooling is the process of parents educating students at home and is permitted in all 50 states.

In Nebraska, 3.2% of all K-12 students are homeschooled. The state of Nebraska requires notice of your intent to homeschool by July 15 or promptly upon choosing to homeschool. The state also requires an annual information survey and parent representative form. It is recommended that you formally withdraw from your public school so your student is not marked truant.

If you choose homeschooling, you’re required to teach specific subjects (including language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and health), but specific standardized tests are not required. If you choose to enroll your child part-time at the local public school, your child may be eligible to participate in sports and other activities.

In the case that you decide to return to public school during the school year, you must notify the Nebraska Department of Education in writing.

To learn more, check out a roundup of homeschooling resources specific to Nebraska

Nebraska Microschools and Mix-and-Match Learning

Today, many Nebraska families are mixing and matching school options to come up with new ways to personalize education. Microschools are one of these ways. A microschool refers to students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize. Microschools can take a variety of shapes and legal forms, from homeschoolers coming together at an enrichment center to a private school committed to small classrooms. What microschools share in common is a commitment to small-group learning and close-knit relationships, along with an emphasis on children as individual learners. 

Here are real examples of microschools and related resources in Nebraska:

 

  • Trinity Academy, a Lutheran microschool in the classical liberal arts educational tradition, is launching in fall 2023 on the campus of Nebraska’s Concordia University in Seward.  

 

  • Masterpiece Academy in Omaha is a microschool founded by a former public school teacher to help small groups of learners discover their passions and overcome challenges. Full-time and part-time educational support is available. 

 

 

Remember, microschooling is more a mentality than a specific legal distinction in most cases. Often, a family participates in a microschool while legally homeschooling, or being enrolled in a private or online school. 

Download the School Choice Snapshot for Nebraska

Download Snapshot

What is School Choice

How can it empower parents and help kids achieve their dreams?

Read More

Choosing the Right School

Tips to help you find a school where your daughter or son will learn, succeed, and be happy.

Get Tips

Search for Schools Near Me

School Type
Traditional public schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public charter schools do not charge tuition. They are usually managed by nonprofit organizations and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public magnet schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and focus on themes, such as math, science, technology, and the arts.
Private schools charge tuition, but scholarships are often available via state programs or by individual schools. Private schools are privately managed and can be faith-based or secular.
Grade Levels

Microschooling and Mix-and-Match Learning

How can it empower parents and help kids achieve their dreams?

Read More

7 Step Guide

Tips to help you find a school where your daughter or son will learn, succeed, and be happy.

View Guide

Education Resources for
Nebraska Parents

For additional information about school choices in
Nebraska, visit these resources:

Every state is different when it comes to school choice options.

Sign up below to get a detailed comparison:

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

There are a variety of school choice options available for many of the 467,000 children living in Nebraska. Families in Nebraska can choose from traditional public schools, public magnet schools, private schools, and homeschooling.

You can discover more information about the school choice options available for your family by reading our Nebraska School Choice Roadmap and by visiting the Nebraska state page.

 National School Choice Week (NSCW) informs, inspires, and empowers parents to discover the K-12 education options available for their children, including traditional public, charter, magnet, online, private, and homeschooling.

Every January, tens of thousands of schools, organizations, and individuals plan unique events and activities to shine a positive spotlight on effective education options in their communities.  The Week is a project of the nonpartisan, nonpolitical National School Choice Awareness Foundation.

Governor Pete Ricketts issued a proclamation recognizing January 23-29, 2022 as Nebraska School Choice Week.

 


There are a variety of school choice options available for many of the 467,000 children living in Nebraska. Families in Nebraska can choose from traditional public schools, public magnet schools, private schools, and homeschooling.

You can discover more information about the school choice options available for your family by reading our Nebraska School Choice Roadmap and by visiting the Nebraska Carolina state page
As a nonprofit, charitable effort, School Choice Week works throughout the year to develop and provide free, practical, and unbiased school search resources for Nebraska families.

During our annual awareness celebrations each January, schools and homeschool groups partner with community organizations to plan school fairs, parent information sessions, open houses and other awareness events to spotlight the diversity of education options available in the state. In January 2022, we will partner with 182 schools and organizations in Nebraska to raise awareness of K-12 education options.

Nebraska