Priority designation proposed for low-performing schools

Senators gave first-round approval Feb. 13 to a bill that would provide special assistance to the state’s lowest performing schools.

Under LB438, as originally introduced by York Sen. Greg Adams, an intervention team appointed by the State Board of Education would assist the school district and school staff in diagnosing issues and designing and implementing strategies to address them. A school would retain the priority designation until the State Board of Education determines it is no longer necessary.

Adams said the state currently has no way to intervene in failing school districts.

“We already collect the data but we don’t have an accountability system,” he said. “There is nothing in statute that gives the state board the authority to intervene and fix problems.”

An Education Committee amendment, adopted 34-0, replaced the bill and decreased the number of eligible priority designation schools from five to three. Under the bill as amended, the intervention team — in conjunction with school district staff — would be required to develop a progress plan to include specific action by the school and district to remove the priority designation. Any priority school would be required to comply with the progress plan for the school district to maintain accreditation.

The State Board of Education would review progress plans annually and suggest any modifications. If a school is designated as a priority school for five consecutive years, the board would be required to reevaluate the progress plan.

Sullivan said the current education system is good, but far from perfect.

“I know we have shortcomings, but we need to address them in a collective manner,” she said. “We often talk about the value of the resources we have in the state. Our most valuable resource is the human capital and the young people we have.”

Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms supported the bill, saying that investment in education, including early childhood education, is paramount.

“So many children come into our school systems with deficiencies,” he said. “If we don’t start to place dollars into early childhood education, many of those children are starting five years behind.”

Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh supported increased accountability but questioned whether the bill went far enough.

“This bill will create the potentiality of the state intervening in a couple of districts, but there are 90 to 150 schools that warrant our attention right now,” he said. “This is meant to bring accountability, but what happens on the back end if they don’t perform?”

Following the adoption of a technical amendment, senators voted to advance the bill to select file on a 35-0 vote.

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