Tuesday, September 12, 2006


It’s football season! Time for my favorite play: an end run.

Nebraska could get around all kinds of political and legal battles going on right now over Class I country schools and the mess in OPS with a simple step: a class-action lawsuit. It would be aimed at winning school choice, at least for the state’s low-income, minority students stuck in schools that aren’t giving them a good-enough education, and our isolated rural kids who are often forced to travel ‘way too many miles to attend consolidated schools against their will.

Crawford v. Davy, a bold and exciting class-action suit, has been filed in New Jersey with help from the Alliance for School Choice. It points the smartest way out of Nebraska’s current doldrums dealing with two decidedly bad education laws passed by the Unicameral:

-- LB 126, the forced consolidation of Nebraska’s remaining small country grade schools into bigger districts,

-- And LB 1024, the formation of a consolidated metro-wide mega-district as a “Learning Community.” It would seek to gloss over decades of race- and income-based achievement disparities in Omaha with a new kind of race: the race for which district can demand the most money from taxpayers.

Both of these ill-advised bills have been in and out of court, prompted a plethora of lawsuits, and promise more of the same fuss and wrangling, with many hard feelings on all sides.

Crawford v. Davy would do away with that legal rigamarole. The lawsuit simply points to the fact that a decent education is a civil right, and many disadvantaged kids in New Jersey haven’t had an opportunity for a decent education, based on decades of low test scores, high dropout rates and so forth. That violates equal protection laws.

Read about it on:


So the Alliance for School Choice, in concert with local leaders, is suing the state on constitutional grounds on behalf of 60,000 New Jersey students in 25 districts.

Here’s what they want – and it’s what we want in Nebraska, too: an end to residence-based school assignments, and a pro-rated stipend in public funds for the parents of each disadvantaged urban child, or isolated rural child, to decide what public OR private school in which to enroll their child.

It would keep the Class I schools open . . . reduce class sizes in OPS schools as some kids opt out . . . provide higher levels of parental satisfaction and trust in our government’s good will, rather than the ill feelings which now prevail . . . curtail the overarching power of the non-teaching bureaucracy . . . and at long last provide some meaningful competition for the often-apathetic public-school monopoly.

Why can’t Nebraska piggyback on this common-sense lawsuit?

Then, if one of those 20 or 25 failing schools in OPS or the closest K-12 district to a Class I school is currently spending $8,000 per pupil per year in federal, state and local tax dollars, those dollars would flow to the parents, not the schools, next school year. They could either direct those tax dollars to the public school of their choice, or use them for tuition at the private school of their choice.

It’s the only solution that comes from OUTSIDE the educrats . . . so it’s the only solution that can provide a fresh, new start for these kids, and a breakthrough that we all sorely need.

Hut! Hut! HIKE! Let’s get started on this end run . . . with a jumping high-five statewide when we score!


Here are some facts and comments about the proposed bond issue on the Nov. 7 ballot for Elkhorn, Neb., voters. In the coming weeks, we’ll look at other major bond issues coming up:

Elkhorn Public Schools
$96 million (which will lead to enormous increases in ongoing operating expenses on down the road, to fill those new buildings with staff and equipment)
That comes to $22,727 for each of the 4,224 students currently enrolled
Second high school ($57.5 million, classrooms for 1,000 students, would share existing high school’s football stadium but would have competition softball, soccer and baseball fields, to be completed in 2010)
Third middle school
New grade school (would be the seventh, $11 million plus site acquisition, would include three rooms for early childhood education since the State Education Department is now pressuring schools to start offering all-day preschool, English Language Learners and elementary overflow)
Expansions and renovations at two existing middle schools (6-8 classrooms at one and a second gym at the other)
Astro turf for football stadium, adding 1,000 seats to total 3,000 seats, a second concession and restroom area, and parking improvements ($1.9 million)
Expansions of district office and bus barn ($1.9 million for new board room, executive meeting room and another meeting area, with restroom upgrade)
Money for land for future schools


The Nebraska Learning Disabilities Association plans its 31st annual statewide conference on Oct. 28 at the Marriott Hotel in Omaha. Featured speaker is Nancy Mather, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona at Tucson, a specialist in assessment, reading, writing and learning disabilities. See
www.ldanebraska.org for agenda and registration details.


Omaha Creighton Preparatory Academy graduate Adam Karnik has won a $1,000 scholarship for earning a gold medal on the 2006 National Latin Exam. He’s a freshman at Creighton University.

He won another $1,000 scholarship from the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Phi Delta Kappa chapter – the education honorary – but look at the embarrassing misspelling on their website, announcing the award:


They called Adam a “perspective” educator, not a “prospective” one.

It’s not Latin, but it’s appropriate: oy.


Nebraskans will be voting in November on whether to put back to full status our 200-plus small Class I elementary-only school districts. They are in limbo pending a statewide thumbs-up, thumbs-down decision on LB 126, the forced consolidation law.

That law is bad on its face, since the Class I schools generally operated for less dollars per pupil, with higher test scores, attendance and parental involvement, than the state’s K-12 districts. The Legislature should have offered the Class I parents the freedom to form charter schools, vouchers to privatize their schools on a co-op basis, some combination of online learning with on-site teachers so that the kids could stay in their own schools, or other form of school choice.

Instead, lawmakers led by State Sen. Ron Raikes and fueled by the egos of the educrats just attempted to wipe them out. Destroying local control this way is the exact opposite of what most people agree we need: more local control over school spending decisions, and more parental involvement and say-so.

Class I proponents are waging a courageous battle with volunteers taking time off work to attend various events across the state and trying to educate voters, but it’s a horrific uphill battle.

Even if that happy outcome could be had, though, look what else could happen:

The Oregonian had a story the other day about a crazy turnaround in Oregon. First, the state decided to offer online charter schools, paid for partially with tax dollars, in search of a more direct parental role in K-12 education.

It’s a rousing success, with as many as 1,500 children are enrolled . . . drawing $5,000 a year in tax funds, only half as much as the public schools are “paid” per enrollee . . . able to offer a full education at a staff-to-child ratio of 50:1, vs. the typical 7:1 in a public schools . . . so for half the cost to taxpayers, kids are doing well and parents are pleased . . . when all of a sudden, the Oregon State Education Department is trying to de-fund it.

They’re saying that, since this highly successful online charter school requires that parents act as “learning coaches” and spend a decent amount of time with their child in supervising their studies, that requirement violates Oregon law.


I predict that even if the Class I proponents successfully knock LB 126 out of the water with the November vote, and of course I hope they do, the State Ed Department will still find ways to literally keep ‘em down on the farm, and make their lives confusing and miserable with onerous mandates and regulations.

It’s not fair. But it’s reality: the Class I’s only have one smart option, and that’s to go completely private.


Considering the messes that we’re in because of two bad legislative bills – the aforementioned LB 126 and LB 1024 – here’s a point to ponder from an American president who, if nothing else, was a master at legislating:

“You do not examine legislation in the light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in the light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered.”

-- Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th U.S. president (1908-1973)

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