Tuesday, February 20, 2007

News Briefs
Operation Pied Piper: Solving the OPS Hooboo,
Plus . . . Reviving the Class I Schoo’s,
Killing the ESU’s,
And Ending Vaccination Blues

Doesn’t the mess in the Legislature over what to do about the longstanding racial achievement gap within the Omaha Public Schools remind you more and more of The Cat in the Hat Comes Back? The more they try to fix it, the squirrely-er things get.

Good thing there’s a great solution just waiting to be discovered:

Announcing Operation Pied Piper: getting Nebraska’s low-income kids into better schools where their specific academic needs can be better met, and saving untold millions of tax dollars to boot.

How it would work: tax credits for private scholarships.

The Unicameral would pass a new state law authorizing dollar-for-dollar tax credits on state income tax in exchange for donations that individuals and corporations would give to private scholarship funds or to the private schools themselves, designated as being for tuition assistance for poor kids.

Instead of paying taxes to the state, you’d donate money to a private scholarship fund. The money would provide tuition assistance to low-income kids to attend the private schools of their choice. The scholarships could be managed by the school boards already existing for private schools, or by 501(c)(3) private scholarship funds, new or existing, such as the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Omaha.

Yes, there would be a “loss” of tax revenue because of these tax credits – but private-school tuition is less than half the average cost per pupil in the public schools. The west Omaha private school our daughter attends, which is great, costs $3,400 a year, vs. over $8,000 spent per year in the neighboring west Omaha public districts.

So for every kid that we help get into a private school, we’d be saving over $4,000, equal to the tax dollars that WOULDN’T have to be spent for kids who would be educated in the private schools. It would far more than offset the “loss” of tax money because of the tax credits. Plus, we wouldn’t have all the problems and entanglements of voucher systems, which threaten the autonomy of the private schools, since with tax funding come government strings attached.

Plus, and this is important: no doubt we would be getting many of the “worst” students out of the public schools. OPS has had a striking racial achievement gap for decades; many minority and low-income kids are “stuck” in failing schools but have no way of affording a better chance in private schools. Let’s say 1,000 more kids leave OPS because of this opportunity. They’d have to be from families with low incomes so that the kids qualify for lunch subsidies. A lot of them would have some of the lowest test scores in OPS.

Think about it: that’d be removing many of the lowest test scores from the OPS average. Those 1,000 kids would be getting a better education in private schools, so they’d be happy.

And the average test scores of our state’s flagship public school district, OPS, would go much higher!!!! That’d make the REST of us happy, too. We would look good on paper, nationally! That’s the name of the game in economic development. And we taxpayers want to fund success, not failure, with our tax dollars. Right?


Plus, we wouldn’t NEED no stinkin’ mega-bureaucratic new Learning Community, expensive new interdistrict magnet schools, socialistic revenue sharing schemes, or any of the other foolish “solutions” being presented in the Legislature.

So far, seven states are offering tax credits for private scholarships, representing thousands of kids helped and millions of tax dollars saved.

Those states are: Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

There’s already an active and successful private scholarship fund operating in Nebraska – the Children’s Scholarship Fund, based in Omaha. It’s providing tuition assistance this year for 1,860 kids to go to private schools around the state, including many who live within the Omaha Public Schools boundaries. Reportedly, twice as many kids applied for tuition assistance as there was money to share. The fund is scrupulous about offering only half as much as tuition really costs, so that the family has “buy-in.”

It’s a great and wonderful program. I have a low-income friend whose daughters were able to go to a private K-8 school because of this, and she is eternally grateful. It would be greatly expanded with the dollar-for-dollar tax credit feature, private schools would have an incentive to expand or start up, and other funds could get started up fairly quickly.

Surely there are some state senators who can see how much better this would be than the red-faced, turf-protecting, nationally-embarrassing WWF mess we’re in now.

Let’s dooooooooo it.

Let Your Senator Know
You Want Your Class I Vote to Count

The Class I country schools controversy comes before the Legislature’s Education Committee today. The hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m. in Hearing Room 1525 in the State Capitol. Contact Ed Committee members and your individual senator through

Hope LB 234 gets through; see below for it and the other upcoming hearings:

Tuesday, February 20

LB 30 (Hudkins) Provide for reorganization of certain Class I and Class VI school districts
LB 234 (Dierks) Provide for reorganization of certain school districts as prescribed
LB 357 (Flood) Provide for community schools, operating councils, elementary grants, and attendance centers
LB 658 (Raikes) Change provisions relating to Class I and Class VI school districts

Monday, February 26

LB 521 (Howard) Add classifications of students to be reported in the fall school district membership reports
LB 643 (Raikes) Change the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act to eliminate certain income tax provisions
LB 644 (Raikes) Provide for summer school student units in the state aid formula
LB 649 (Raikes) Modify the state aid formula under the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act
LB 691 (Synowiecki) Change Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act provisions with respect to full-day kindergarten

Tuesday, February 27

LB 455 (White) Allow school districts to exceed applicable allowable growth rate for increased energy or insurance costs
LB 492 (Harms) Adopt the Education Facilities State Aid Act and create the Education Facilities Review Board
LB 498 (White) Adopt the Business Partnership in Rural Education Program Act
LB 595 (Kopplin) Create the Task Force on School Funding for Economic Growth
LB 614 (Raikes) Change adjusted valuation provisions under the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act
LB 655 (Raikes) Change state aid to school provisions relating to adjustments on budget statements

It’s Long, Long Past Time
To Get Rid of Nebraska’s
Educational Service Units

It is cuckoo-crazy to keep operating nineteen separate Educational Service Units within Nebraska. Sure, it made sense 30 years ago, when ed tech and special ed were new challenges, for districts to pool resources and share ESU services.

But they’re irrelevant, outdated, bloated and expensive now. They’re also under the accountability radar, accused of abusing or overstretching the state’s Open Meetings laws, and violating the spirit of the Legislature’s school spending lid outrageously with over-use of Interlocal Agreements.

The functions of the ESU’s could easily be absorbed by existing districts, and we could use three of the ESU buildings as shared warehouses across the state. Millions would be saved.

Voila! Presto! Who’s a state senator with a pulse and a brain wave? Get on it, and thanks!

Mega-Costly Autism Holocaust
Makes It Imperative
To Nix Mercury in All Vaccinations

Former Nebraskan Linda Weinmaster of Lawrence, Kan., is leading the charge in Nebraska to get dangerous mercury out of vaccinations. Her son Adam has autism, and she is convinced it is because of the mercury used as a preservative (in Thimerosol) in the shots that she got during pregnancy, and he had in early childhood.

Caring for kids with autism and related disorders is going to cost Americans untold billions of dollars, not to mention the heartaches and headaches for families dealing with these difficult disorders.

Mrs. Weinmaster is asking that citizens contact your senator and ask him or her to support LB 49, the Mercury Vaccine Drug Act, sponsored by Sen. Carol Hudkins of Malcolm, Neb.

You can find your senator on

For more about the mercury / vaccinations controversy, see
www.nomercury.org and www.achamp.org

New Kudos Added
To Go Big Ed Hall of Fame

http://www.gobiged.com/Go_Big_Edbr_Hall_of_Fame/ for some inspiring new entries.

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