This week in the legislature two school-related bills garnered a lot of attention and sparked some intense debate.
On Tuesday, March 14, the Education Committee held a public hearing on a bill introduced by Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill that would allow creation of independent public schools, also known as charter schools.
LB 630, the Independent Public Schools Act, would permit nonprofit organizations and certain other entities to establish independent schools in any school district with a school the State Board of Education has identified as significantly underperforming. Level of performance is determined by evaluating several factors including graduation rates and test scores.
The bill would create an eight-member commission to grant and oversee charter school compacts. The bill would also authorize school districts to grant and administer compacts for charter schools to operate within their boundaries.
The schools would be independent of any school board and would be managed by a board of trustees. Each charter school would receive state aid equal to the number of enrolled students multiplied by the statewide average funding per formula student amount. They would be open to all students through a lottery system.
The debate over whether or not to permit charter schools elicits strong emotions on both sides of the issue. At its core though, no matter which side you come down on, is the belief that every child in Nebraska must receive a high quality education that will prepare them to become successful adults and equip them with the skills they need to get good jobs and be productive members of society.
Personally, I am a strong supporter of the education provided in the state’s public schools. This is not to say that all public schools are excelling, clearly there are some that are not. But overall our public schools do a good job and I think it’s important that we give them credit for the work they do.
I have introduced several bills this session that call for significantly changing the way we fund public education by reducing the current heavy reliance on property taxes. This is in no way a reflection on the quality of public education in the state. I am not trying to take money away from the public schools. I am simply hoping we can come up with a different funding mechanism that will still adequately support our schools while sharing the economic burden more fairly.
Very soon the Revenue Committee, of which I am Vice Chair, will be putting out its proposed tax package and I’m sure I will have some additional comments on education funding at that time.
LB 62 introduced by Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk was filibustered for a second time by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers. The bill would repeal a law prohibiting public school teachers from wearing religious garb at school. The prohibition was passed by Nebraska in 1919 and requires school boards to suspend a teacher for one year for a first violation and terminate their employment upon a second violation.
Sen. Chambers also staged a filibuster against the bill on General File. First round debate was ended by a cloture vote on Feb. 22 after two days of protracted discussion. Senators then voted 36-1 to advance the bill to Select File. The second round filibuster was ended by another successful cloture vote and the bill was advanced to Final Reading on a vote of 41-1. It is likely Sen. Chambers will again waste a significant amount of time with a filibuster against the bill on Final Reading.
Having passed the halfway point in this legislative session with only 14 bills being sent to the governor, there is a significant backlog of legislation to get to and time is rapidly winding down. In addition, we still need to pass a budget and with the revenue shortfall and anticipated budget cuts, this promises to be no easy task. The Appropriations Committee has until April 24 (the 70th legislative day) to place the appropriations bills on General File. The legislature is required to pass all appropriations bills by the 80th legislative day which is May 10 this year.
Please feel free to contact me and my staff about your legislative concerns or other issues you would like to discuss. My email address is email@example.com and our telephone number is 402-471-2630.