In response to the Governor’s editorial published in the Columbus Telegram on Jan. 27, we would like to weigh in on the school choice sentiment displayed by the Governor and some state lawmakers. School choice is a hot topic that is always heavily discussed around our capital during the legislative session. We are told that school choice will be the cure-all for those “failing public schools”. However, school choice has long been a prevalent practice across Nebraska.
Pandering for school choice has always been synonymous with the political push for charter schools and vouchers. But in Nebraska, it has always been a parent’s decision whether they choose another public, private, or parochial school. Despite these actual choices, the Governor and lawmakers want to make a tax rebate, that is similar to a voucher, an issue for school choice. This rebate would only be available to individuals who support or families who choose to attend private or parochial schools. So the legislature has to decide if public tax dollars should be directed to families who choose to send their children to private or parochial schools.
This sentiment was, unsurprisingly, again echoed by Governor Ricketts in his most recent editorial. While school choice may be an issue in other states, we do not believe adding charter schools or a voucher system will improve educational outcomes in Nebraska because we already have an incredible amount of school choice. Nebraska offers option enrollment that provides students with the option to change school districts. A Nebraska student can attend any public school they want as long as that school has room to accommodate them. In addition, we have excellent parochial schools in the area for any student that would like to attend as well as a number of families who choose to homeschool their children. That sure sounds like school choice to us!
In his editorial, Governor Ricketts stated that he wants transparency and accountability as reasons for promoting school choice. In our opinion, there are few places that are more transparent or accountable than public schools. We are governed by elected officials, we have board meetings that are open to the public, our state-mandated test scores and annual financial reports are displayed on the Nebraska Department of Education website, and most curriculums are available on school websites. One would be hard-pressed to find anywhere that is mandated to provide that type of transparency and is held that accountable.
Critics of public schools will say that school officials do not want school choice in Nebraska. Of course we do! That is exactly why there is option enrollment and also why we foster great relationships with our parochial school peers. We believe everyone has been provided school choice so to allow public dollars to filter into independent, private, or parochial schools without any public accountability does not make sense and provides no better outcomes for Nebraska students. So rest assured that, regardless of any political posturing you may read in our newspapers, school choice is alive and well in Nebraska!
Dr. Troy Loeffelholz is Superintendent of Columbus Public Schools.
Dr. Aaron Plas is Superintendent of Lakeview Community Schools.