An Omaha senator who succeeded in shrinking the size of the Omaha school board says he’ll introduce a slate of sweeping education reforms next year.
Republican Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh said while the smaller Omaha Public Schools board is performing “admirably,” he still sees a need for additional changes to Nebraska’s school system. He wants the state to authorize independent public schools within OPS where schools are underachieving.
“The parents in these areas need the neighborhood-based, public alternatives that such schools would provide,” he said. “Putting at-risk kids on a bus for two hours a day to get them to a quality school does not constitute a fair choice for them, and will not engage their parents in that distant school. I will continue to fight for a better option for these kids.”
Lautenbaugh says he will introduce legislation to:
• Increase pay for board-certified teachers, with reimbursement and raises for teachers in high-poverty districts who get certified and continue working in the district for five years.
• Grade schools based on their performance, with bonus money for those that improve their grades and bonuses for teachers whose students pass AP exams.
• End “social promotion” after third grade and increase graduation requirements. Lautenbaugh said it’s crucial that students have the ability to read at the third-grade level before moving on and too many graduates must take remedial courses before starting college course work.
• Mandate that principals approve teacher transfers, to end “the dance of the lemons” where failing teachers are passed from school to school.
• Reform teacher tenure and eliminate administrator tenure and reform pensions. Lautenbaugh wants to end “last in, first out” layoffs and instead lay off the lowest performing teachers, regardless of seniority. He said the existing teacher pension system allows teachers to fully vest in a pension in five years, retire, begin drawing a pension and then return to work and vest in another pension.
• Provide alternative ways for teachers to become certified. For example, people who have college degrees in other fields could get on-the-job training or complete community college programs, he said. Under the current rules, Nebraska can’t participate in programs like Teach for America, he said.
“As a result, instead of drawing talent into our state or retaining local talent, we are losing out on extraordinary individuals who go elsewhere to pursue such service,” Lautenbaugh said.
Lautenbaugh said money isn’t always the answer to improving education.
“Sometimes we need to adopt better practices, end bad practices and/or raise the standards for all involved,” he said. “We can’t keep writing kids off and tolerating failure – it is time to act in the best interest of our children, not defend the status quo.”
The Nebraska State Education Association has not responded to a request for comment.