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Nebraska Parent Group Pushing for Charter Law, Choice in Local Schools

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In most parts of the country, the concept of school choice is closely aligned with charter schools. But what do parents do in the eight states where charter schools aren't allowed?

A group of parents in Nebraska is mobilizing to get more options for their children within the Omaha public school system. But they mainly have their sights on getting the Nebraska legislature to approve a charter-school law.

Parent Clarice Jackson, founder of Our Children Our Schools, said other states have had charter school laws for up to 25 years old, but it's not something that Nebraska "has tapped into."

"We know it's not a silver bullet. It could be the right education choice for their child," Jackson said. "I'm perplexed why anyone in the state would be opposed to an option that could be beneficial for a child."

The kickoff meeting for Our Children Our Schools was held Feb. 25, as reported by KETV Omaha. About 30 people attended the first event, but the group's Facebook page is growing, with more than 500 people. A core group has had discussions for about a year and a half, and some rallied for school choice at the Nebraska Capitol in January. 

The group plans to start a political action committee to raise money for candidates who support charter schools.

This isn't the first time Jackson has pushed for school change. Her late daughter struggled with dyslexia as a child, prompting Jackson to start the Voice Advocacy Center, a special education and dyslexia screening and tutoring center. 

She said Nebraska schools have allowed parents to transfer outside of their neighborhood schools under open enrollment and the federal No Child Left Behind Act (now being phased out as the Every Student Succeeds Act phases in). But many parents are unaware of those options or are unwilling to send their children across town to school.

Jackson was unhappy with her son's school, so he began getting up at 6:30 a.m. to take the bus to another middle school starting in 5th grade.

"We're not anti public school. We're anti-failing school," Jackson said. "We want to help schools."

In addition to charter schools, Jackson said she hopes her group serves as a forum for parents to talk about similar problems across different schools and get heard by administrators.

"Especially for African-American families who are in schools that are perpetually failing, that option for high-performing charter schools should have been on the table a long time ago," said Jackson, who is African-American.

She added: "I can see if charters just came out last year and the state says it doesn't know much about them to be jumping on bandwagon. But they have been around for 25-plus years. We can look at what models work."

Eight states do not have charter school laws. That number includes Washington where the state's high court nixed the law in September.

Nebraska's push for charter schools has been tough. Gov. Pete Ricketts supports charter schools, even signing a proclamation as part of National School Choice Week in January

But Omaha school board members and some lawmakers have had concerns over previous legislation attempts, as have as the Nebraska school board and teachers' union membersLast year, a Nebraska charter bill was heard, but it died in a legislative committee.

So far this year, a school-choice bill, which would establish state tax credits for donors who create scholarships for low-income students to go to private schools, was brought back after failing last year. But the bill has yet to gain traction.

Alabama is the most recent state to sign a charter school law. Also, Kentucky lawmakers are now considering a bill to begin charter schools.

Related story: States That Prohibit Charters Likely to Decline

Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

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