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$2 billion or parent power to remedy unconstitutional schools?

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In 1985, the Kansas City, Missouri School District (KCMSD) was determined to be unconstitutionally segregated, while its students failed to achieve. For 12 years, a federal district judge had partial control of KCMSD and taxed citizens to support $2 billion in district school spending ($25,000 per student- adjusted for inflation). In 1997, the experiment was terminated. Segregation had continued to increase and student performance had not improved. During those 12 years, KCMSD renovated 54 schools, built 15 new ones, increased salaries 40 percent and reduced the ratio of students to instructional staff to 13 to 1. (Wall Street Journal 1/17/14)

Essentially, KCMSD taxed and spent $2 billion to retain student learning failure in a well-staffed, elite environment. Fast forward to January 1, 2012 that same district lost accreditation. The Missouri State Board of Education revoked accreditation after the district failed to meet state performance standards for several years.

On March 7, 2014, the Kansas Supreme Court determined public school funding violated the state constitution due to inequities between districts in the state. Kansas currently spends an average of about $11,776 per student, over $3 billion per year. The legislature was ordered by the court to address inequity by July 1, 2014. (Dion Lefler, The Wichita Eagle 3/9/14)

The Kansas legislature determined students and their parents/guardians had an interest in the solution to inequity. Kansas included school choice to address disparate funding among districts:

  • In April, Kansas became the 24th state to adopt private school choice. The new law would provide vouchers to low-income children who are assigned to failing schools and also to children with special needs. (Brittany Corona, Education, The Foundry 5/3/14)

The achievement scores of Nebraska’s poor children are inequitable. Is that not a violation of the constitution? In reading, just 23 percent of Nebraska fourth graders eligible for the National School Lunch Program are proficient (grade level) or above; 49 percent of those not eligible are proficient or above. (NAEP 2013)

The Nebraska legislature has repeatedly enacted laws to address school funding and attendance (funding). It is time to empower parents/guardians to more effectively address inequitable achievement among groups in our great state. Providing a path for students and their parents/guardians to exercise choice in education options is well worth a try and long overdue in Nebraska.

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