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Omaha community fights for public charter schools in Nebraska

Nebraska is one of only eight states that do not allow public charter schools, but that could soon change. Last week, the Nebraska Education Committee considered a bill, LB 972, to allow a pilot program of five public charter schools in Omaha. The public hearing on the bill attracted dozens of supporters, many of whom said that parents should have more public school options, especially parents of low-income children and those struggling in the current public school system.  The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools weighed in with a letter of support for the bill.

Senator Scott Lautenbaugh (R-Omaha) introduced this year’s charter school bill after a different charter school bill was killed last year in the Education Committee. Senator Lautenbaugh proposed the five start-up public charter schools open in Omaha as a way to present an effective and proven way to educate students from the metro’s high poverty areas.  Speaking in support of this approach, Willie Hamilton, a member of Omaha Black Men United, stated: “If you’re rich, your kids are doing well in school. If you’re middle class, it’s a toss-up, but mostly poor kids, they are at a big risk for failure.” Hamilton was among several Omaha  community leaders that helped organize a busload of local supporters to take their concerns to the State Capitol for Tuesday’s standing room only hearing. Many more supporters waited for hours in line for the chance to speak in favor of the bill.

Opponents of the bill stated that Omaha Public Schools needs more time to improve lagging test scores and graduation rates without the “distraction” of public charter schools. Teacher union representatives echoed this opposition, saying that Nebraska needs more time to hammer out charter school guidelines. “There’s always an excuse for not doing the next thing,” said Senator Lautenbaugh. “The opposition will never relent on this issue, but you have to give kids a chance.”

We are hopeful that the legislature will pass this bill soon. Nebraska parents should not have to wait yet another year for high-quality public charter school options.

Lisa Grover is senior director for state advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.