The devil is in the details

Per Article VII of the Nebraska Constitution, it is the responsibility of the State of Nebraska to provide for a free public education to the children of Nebraska. As a 3 term local school board member, I believe that we have to take that responsibility seriously, but I also realize that the devil is in the details.

Historically, school districts were created by the state in localities, and then the local districts were largely responsible for the determination of curriculum standards, as well as for the funding of education. More recently, the state has become a more dominant factor in determining curriculum choices of local boards, as well as in providing funding for educational programs.

On the public school side, I have a few simple understandings:

  1. Nebraska’s public schools should strive to have the best educated young people in the country.
  2. The amount of money spent does not necessarily equal the best education.
  3. If the state is going to mandate particular testing, curriculum, or practices, then the state should provide the funding for those—and not (as so often happens at the national level) just in the short term. If it’s important enough for us to require it of local school districts, it’s important enough for us to find a way to pay for it, rather than putting the pinch on local districts who will then need to raise property taxes.
  4. In reality, I think we probably need to re-think the way that we fund public education—but that will also mean rethinking the expectations that we have.

Finally, I think it’s important to recognize that private schools and home schools have a place in our system. Not all parents—whether for religious reasons or for other reasons—believe that their children should be in the public school system. PARENTS are the first educators, and they know their children better than do any public school system employee.

If parents choose to have their children educated outside of the public school system, our policy should be finding ways of making it easier, not harder, for them to do so—keeping in mind that most of these parents are paying property taxes and income taxes to finance the public system, without gaining any personal benefits from it.

For home-schooling parents, in particular, the state has a reasonable interest in being assured that their children are progressing academically, but beyond that, we should allow those parents to educate their children in a manner which they deem most effective for their child(ren).

Education is, and will likely always be, a topic of great interest and importance to me. I want to see results, without having the State be overbearing. I believe that most local school boards—given well defined goals, along with teachers and administrators who are well connected with parents—will make the best decisions for their students.

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