Wednesday, February 18, 2004



Let's put in place our own outstanding, innovative plan to vault Nebraska to the mountaintop of educational excellence. I have a three-pronged approach. I call it:

Go Big Ed!

Feel free to comment on these proposals or add your own. Go Big Ed will resume on Monday, Feb. 23 with a series on private education in Nebraska.

1. Back the Education Bureaucracy Into a Cage.

You're the lion tamer and ''The Blob'' is the out-of-control nonteaching bureaucracy. It’s time taxpayers showed who's boss. The only thing educrats understand is regulations. So let's put good ones in to replace the bad ones we're stuck with now. The State of Minnesota, vastly more liberal than Nebraska, is doing great things with a grassroots coalition to roll back the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad government ''learning'' standards that are micromanaging schools with Political Correctness, and strangling out any shred of individuality and accountability schools may have left. If Minnesota can get rid of the dumbed-down standards in their ''Profile of Learning,'' we can get rid of State Education Commissioner Doug Christensen's Goals 2000 standardized schlock that is costing us our solvency and wrecking our children's futures. This was foisted on us about 10 years ago as outcome-based education, since renamed ''High Performance Learning.'' HAH! The only thing it has performed highly in, is WRECKING schools at a huge expense. Read more about Minnesota's success on:


2. Parent Power.

I really like what State Sen. Chip Maxwell is trying to do with his proposal to fund K-12 with a $6,000 per-student state subsidy. He's trying to cap spending, get rid of the political football over the state-aid formula, and get the spotlight off bureaucratic wrangling and back onto academics. The problem with his plan is, parents still don’t have any power. The money still is perceived as coming from the ''state,'' not our neighbors and friends. So . . . Go Big Ed favors a no-strings attached per-pupil ''educational rebate'' in tax funds to be paid to those parents who choose NOT to enroll their child in a public school, but instead to homeschool or use private education. It's OK if this rebate is less than the average per-pupil expenditures of state and local taxes – even half as much or only a third as much. If the average per-pupil spending in Nebraska public schools is now about $7,000, then make these ''alternative rebates'' available to any family who wants them for $2,500. Keep public-school funding where it is, and keep offering special-ed and other services free of charge for families who choose to use them. Yes, there may be more money going out initially since existing private-schoolers and homeschoolers would be cut ''in'' for the first time. So maybe we'd have to phase it in based on how many people apply. But isn't it wrong to deny them a piece of the tax pie, since they pay into it? And think how much we'd save in the long run. That $2,500 would be far less than what taxpayers spend on a public-school pupil, but would be more than what the average homeschooling family now spends per pupil. That would enable some quality improvement in that arena, which helps us all. And that money would cover tuition or make a huge dent in it at every private school in the state -- equalizing educational opportunity for rich and poor. It would spawn lots of new private schools, which is what we need most of all: more choices, more competition, more opportunity for parents to be treated like customers and not just ''useful idiots'' who merely supply enrollment stats. Avoiding an elaborate school-choice voucher system would be great, too, because then our private education system doesn't get all entangled in the ooie-gooie bureaucracy and mediocrity in our public schools. Key point of this plan: we must NOT mandate that kids in private schools and homeschools have to take any certain assessment. That would wreck the distinctly different curriculum in private schools and homeschools so that they would align with the public schools. Not gonna go there; wouldn't be prudent. Meanwhile, as it grows, private education will shine so brightly that the dimwits in public education will notice enrollment drain – the only thing that gets their attention – and clean up their act. Then all kids will be better off. It's the only way. Or if the publics don't improve, they'll go down the drain and it'll be clearly their own fault, since they had much more dough than the private schools. I'll be there playing ''Taps,'' followed shortly by a rousing rendition of ''When the Saints Go Marching In.''

3. End the Bureaucratic Mediocrity

You know how there've been some, ahem, changes in the University of Nebraska football staff? Well, nobody likes how it's been done. But maybe it needed to be done, to avoid a slide into mediocrity. It reminds me soooo much of what's going on in our schools, statewide. They used to be pretty darn good. So let's take a clue. Let's be a lot more courteous, but . . . think about who ''caved'' to let all these crummy, dumbed-down, nationalized standards and anti-intellectual regulations take a throttlehold on our schools. Whoever did that needs to be gone. Ergo: let's abolish the State Board of Education. They haven't been relevant or integral for some time now, anyway. The money is handled by other duly elected officials, from county boards to state legislators. No need for yet another rubber stamp. This would give authority back where it belongs – with local elected school boards. Last, but certainly not least, abolish the office of the State Education Commissioner as an appointed job. Instead, make it elected, and therefore, the person will be accountable to the public, the way the State Treasurer and State Auditor are. Aren't our children at least as important as our bucks? My goodness, this is one of the very most important jobs in the state – maybe even more important than the governor's seat. What do we expect to get from our schools except mediocrity, with an appointed, Union-Shilling, Accountability-Dodging, Backside-Covering Rubber Stamp in that office instead of a passionate, reality-driven, voter-sensitive, independent advocate for our kids? Give the person a small staff, yes, yes. But let's get bureaucracy out of commission in the Cornhusker State's schools . . . and fire up the economic development potential and obvious benefits of having a truly excellent K-12 educational system, not just one that's in “compliance” with ''The Blob.''

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