A story in the World Herald on December 19, “OPS board preparing for charter school bills,” reports that several members of the OPS School Board expect charter school legislation to be introduced into the Nebraska Legislature next year, and want to be in a position to influence it. According to proponents, charter schools provide more choice for families who are dissatisfied with their own neighborhood school.
In debating this issue, it is important to keep in mind that the Learning Community already provides expanded educational choice in the metro Omaha area. In 2013-2014, 6,535 students, of whom 42% were eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch support, participated in the LC’s Open Enrollment program which allows great latitude in transferring into a different school district as long as space is available. FRL eligible students are provided free transportation for these transfers, at a cost of $5.4 million last year.
The above charts from the 2012-2013 LC Annual Report demonstrate very clearly the academic benefit provided by the Open Enrollment program. For example, the 237 FRL students who transferred into low FRL elementary schools scored as high in reading proficiency as the resident students. The 248 FRL students who transferred into high FRL elementary schools scored much higher in reading proficiency than the resident students. Similar results are true for mathematics although the proficiency numbers are lower.
The LC staff believes (see the 2013-2014 Annual Report) that the number of FRL students participating in open enrollment is too small to have an appreciable difference on closing the profound socio-economic achievement gap which exists in the Learning Community. However, the Open Enrollment program is still valuable as a safety valve for families who are looking for a different school environment.
Consider all of the educational choice which already exists for OPS students: many magnet programs, the Wilson Focus School in south Omaha, the Seventy-Five North partnership proposed for Howard Kennedy Elementary School, and the new privately funded Nelson Mandela Elementary School opening in Fall 2015.
On top of all this is the LC’s Open Enrollment program for any low-income student to transfer to a different school district with free transportation provided.
Nebraska does not need Charter Schools for the very simple reason that huge educational choice already exists where it is most needed, namely within the high poverty Omaha Public School District.