- Associated Press - Saturday, February 15, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A Nebraska lawmaker is continuing his fight to bring charter schools to the state.

Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, of Omaha, introduced a bill that would allow for the creation of up to five charter schools in the Omaha Public Schools through a pilot program.

Charter schools are funded with public money but operate independently of a school board.

These schools are more nimble to adapting to new practices and to the needs of their students, Lautenbaugh said.

“We should provide choices within the district, within the neighborhoods and this is the shortest route to doing that,” Lautenbaugh said.

Nebraska is one of eight states that doesn’t allow charter schools, according to a 2013 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University.

The report found that 25 percent of charter schools outperform comparative traditional public schools and 19 percent produced worse results. In math, 29 percent of charter schools outperformed the traditional public schools and 31 percent were weaker, according to the report.

Just spending more money on the current system is not education reform, Lautenbaugh said during floor debate on an education bill this week.

“If a charter school fails, it closes,” he said. “If our existing public schools fail, nothing much seems to happen.”

Last year, Lautenbaugh introduced a charter school bill that was indefinitely postponed by the committee. This year’s bill has been tweaked to reflect best practices of charter schools in other states, Lautenbaugh said.

Sen. Tanya Cook of Omaha was one of the eight Education Committee members who voted to indefinitely postpone Lautenbaugh’s bill last year.

Cook has concerns about accountability to the public and to parents.

“I’m very concerned that a step in that direction, however well-intentioned, means we’re throwing up our hands on the public schools,” she said.

Jim Vokal, executive director of the Platte Institute for Economic Research, said the institute will testify in support of the bill. The institute is a Nebraska think tank that advocates for free markets and small government.

Sometimes, moving to another traditional public school isn’t enough choice, he said.

“It’s a disservice not to at least try another innovative approach for those parents and students that want more choice,” Vokal said.

The OPS Board has not voted to take a position on the bill. The State Board of Education will testify against the bill at the hearing.

The bill is scheduled to be presented to the Education Committee on Feb. 25.

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The bill is LB972

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