Thursday, April 13, 2006


I finally get where the “learning community” concept promulgated by State Sen. Ron Raikes of Lincoln, apparently about to be accepted by a majority of the Unicam today, comes from.

Raikes is an agricultural economist. He has a Ph.D. in that field – excuse the pun. So his mind has been shaped to work with commodities and governmental regulations and programs. You know: they’re the guys who pay farmers not to farm, and keep tight controls on the market. How much local control is there in agriculture? Zero. Zip. Nada.

So now, it appears, they’re going to pay educators not to educate, and consolidate centralized control even more over public education. In the overarching learning community that will control what school districts do in the Omaha metro area, children will be grouped in one pile, like putting all the county’s corn in one silo.

Children will be treated like commodities, all the same, instead of allowing parents and educators to do and spend as they see fit to meet distinctly different needs of distinctly different student populations. Everything will be done by “committee,” and you know what impact committees have on spending decisions when it’s other people’s money being spent, and everybody on the committee wants to “contribute” to the overall complexity and pricetag.

Instead of allowing parents to “invest” in their child’s education and direct it in the way they choose, the government will hold all the cards, and quash any practice or person who won’t cleave to government specs and standards.

So even though laptop computers might make perfect sense to provide for highly-literate, high-achieving suburban high-school juniors and seniors in Advanced Placement classes, ALL children will “have” to have them, even if they can’t read, or else there won’t be “equity” within the overall learning community.

So we will see more and more events like the recent theft of $20,000 worth of laptops from Franklin Elementary School in inner-city Omaha. Oh, well: you-know-what happens when you’re striving for “equity.”

We will end up reducing our public schools to local government offices that provide government subsidies for standardized training for low-level, low-skilled workers from low-income families, and the college-bound kids will go to private schools with their parents paying tuition if they want more than the bare bones basics.

So not only will the schools themselves be segregated by race and income level, the whole spectrum of education will be: the rich will be in private schools, and the poor will be in public schools.

It is fairly likely that the “learning community” constraints will force a large number of nicer, smarter families into private schools sooner rather than later, to escape the Soviet-style, collectivist philosophy and methods that will be put in place with this mega-district concept. If you don’t want your child “processed” like everybody else’s, but you want education to be “value-added,” then you’ll have to pay for it in a private setting.

That will wipe out any hope of keeping public schools as the beneficent incubator of America. It will destroy the hope of making Nebraska’s public schools as great as they could be, and it could spell the death knoll for economic development in our state. We have high taxes and low plains – no mountains, no oceans, no forests, few big lakes – so what’s our draw? In the past, it’s been pretty good public schools. That may be in jeopardy.

But it may be too late, anyway: the Tax Foundation ranks Nebraska among the bottom 10 states with the worst business climates, 43rd to be exact.

High taxes, excessive government, and now so-so schools being strangled by over-regulation: it doesn’t appear that Nebraska will be able to reverse its population losses (minus 9.7% from 1995 to 2000) compared to other states (Nevada=plus 151.5%, Colorado=plus 43.8%).


We could have had beautiful integration and rousing competition, if we had listened to gubernatorial Dave Nabity, who wanted to divide up the 23 most troubled OPS schools and assign a few each to surrounding public school districts to get them under fresh, new management. It would have been an impressive model for the nation. It would have really put us on the map.

We could have offered vouchers. We could have created tax credits. We could have enabled charter schools, or private management of public schools doing the worst job. We could have put some of Omaha’s best minority leaders in place as liaisons with neighboring districts to solve this from outside OPS, instead of expecting the same people who haven’t been able to solve the minority underachievement problem for decades suddenly be able to solve it now.

We had every opportunity to do something with this OPS crisis that was innovative, exciting, compassionate and cost-effective. But we didn’t.

That’s the bad news. The GOOD news is, it isn’t set in stone. So here’s hoping our Legislature and other leaders won’t settle for this, but will put their thinking caps on, and get back into the fields to farm up a better way.

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