The Education Committee heard testimony Feb. 25 on a bill that would allow the state Board of Education to issue up to five school charters.
Under LB593, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, qualifying groups could apply for a charter from the state board to create a school independent of the school district in which it is located. The bill would apply only to cities of the metropolitan class. Omaha currently is the only metropolitan city in the state.
Lautenbaugh said charter schools could be a good solution to failing public schools.
“It provides an important choice for parents,” he said. “We need to try something outside of the administrative strictures of the Omaha School Board.”
Groups eligible to file for a state charter could include: businesses, corporate entities, two or more certified teachers or 10 or more parents.
The application for charter could be filed in conjunction with a college, university, museum or other similar entity. Private, denominational and parochial schools would not be eligible for a charter.
Charter schools would function as nonprofit entities under state law and would be required to meet all education requirements established by the state board. The board would be responsible for the issuance of charters, regulation of charter standards and the revocation of charters for schools failing to meet established standards.
Jim Vokal, executive director of the Platte Institute, supported the bill, saying Nebraska is one of just a few states without a charter school system.
“We have a strong tradition of parent-controlled education,” Vokal said. “Our children’s education should not be hampered by the bureaucracy of the public education system.”
State Commissioner of Education Roger Breed opposed the bill. He said open enrollment in the Omaha Public School district gives parents plenty of choice in their child’s education.
“The assertion that charter schools promote innovation or produce better outcomes is false,” he said. “They are not providing anything that is not currently available in public schools.”