NTF Issue paper: Learningcommunity4.doc. 11-14.


BACKGROUND. Liberal educrats offer a standard answer to academic failure: raise taxes, increase spending, and create additional bureaucracy. Douglas and Sarpy County property taxpayers years ago received a rude awakening on their tax bills when viewing a new line item, the Learning Community (LC), levying another property tax. Established by the legislature to avoid a lawsuit by Omaha Public Schools (OPS) and its threat to annex adjoining school districts, the LC also consumes millions in state aid, our state income and sales tax dollars, supposedly to guarantee educational opportunity for all students and increase academic achievement in the Omaha metro area. Shame on state senators in 2007 for lacking the fiscal backbone to withstand an assault on taxpayers by the public education establishment hawking another grandiose social engineering scheme. LB 641 established this new education bureaucracy extending over 11 Douglas-Sarpy County school districts. There exists redundancy in the governance, as districts must submit reports to both the State Dept. of Education and LC. This bureaucracy supersedes individual school districts, appropriates their authority, and further extinguishes citizen input. The distribution of its general fund common tax levy accrued from each school district sees wealthier districts that levy higher property taxes subsidize poorer districts, a socialist redistribution of wealth. The new formula of shared property tax education funding has not reduced school district reliance on state aid to schools, as pledged.

BEYOND EDUCATION. This bill endowed education centers, each with its own board, another bureaucracy siphoning off state aid. Huge expenditures here stem from guaranteed access to early childhood programs, class size reduction for poor children, student access without parental notification to social workers in school buildings, access to extended school day and year programs, and professional development for teachers and administrators focusing on educational needs of poor and illegal alien students. Elementary resource centers with salaried executive directors and staffs offer pupils computer labs, tutors, mentors, social services for transient students, transportation for truant students and for poor kids’ parents to school functions, English classes for parents and other family members related to illegal alien students, interpreter services, child care for parents working on literacy skills, physical and mental health services, and distribution of school supplies. The LC need not ask for a majority vote at the ballot box for these construction projects, as bond campaigns in individual school districts require.

TAX $$ FOR ILLEGALS. Over $500,000 funds a family literacy program for illegal alien families, specifically aimed at non-English speaking parents of kiddiegarden kids at 5 South Omaha elementary schools. Our tax money pays for computer and parenting instruction and free child care. Each family assigned a bilingual parent educator who visits their home every few weeks. Instructors help families solve personal problems and serve as cultural allies. The initial group of 40 families will expand to 80 or more.

SOCIAL ENGINEERING. Open enrollment seeks multicultural diversity by paying for transporting students to other school districts. Translation: pressure off OPS. This expensive diversity plan objective is to yearly increase the socioeconomic diversity of enrollment at each grade level in each school. The plan forces each school district to provide numerous openings for students residing outside an attendance area, forcing taxpayers in wealthier districts to subsidize students residing in poorer districts. The cost of hauling kids around the 2 counties has grown from $1.89 million in 2010 to $5.4 million in 2013, with a cost of $3,598 per student, monies that better could fund merit pay for teachers or an enhanced curriculum. The objective of increasing academic performance by this ploy has failed miserably. 11th Grade reading proficiency declined 3 yrs. in a row, from 67.9% to 62.4% in 2012. 1/3 of LC 11th Graders cannot read at proficient level.1

STAGGERING COSTS. LB 641 was unnecessary to basic education and so complex that none of its legislative sponsors could say definitely how much it will cost taxpayers or increase educational achievement. In 7 years, costs continue to climb rapidly. In 2011, the LC bought a 20,000 square foot building in South Omaha to aid parents of elementary kids in English proficiency and gain high school equivalency diplomas. $1 million to focus on teaching English to illegal aliens. This building also holds space for liberal agencies and organizations like Building Bright Futures, space to provide liberal outreach programs. Here, the LC offered a $325,000 6-mo. contract, now renewed annually, to One World Health Center to operate this site. In 2013, the LC spent $4.6 million for a North Omaha Learning Center, a 20,000 square foot clinical setting to train teachers to teach poverty kids and for local child care providers. $334,000 to an architectural design firm. Taxpayers pay over $500,000 per yr. for the building lease, more expensive per square foot than Regency office space. Poor parents can learn parenting skills there. Child care for babies and infants. Hardly the objective of traditional schools! So far, no rise in academic achievement by poor or immigrant kids there. Instead of working to repeal the statutory provision for the LC, superintendents in the included school districts want to increase state aid to all the school districts, especially ones with many poor kids and illegal aliens, again soaking taxpayers. They want the LC to levy an additional property tax to raise $900,000 for staff development and instructional materials. They want to retain the social engineering open enrollment transfer system, paid by state monies. More funding for focus schools to promote additional diversity, paying for startup, transportation, and location costs.

GRABBING KIDS EARLIER. LC council members voted to spend $1.5 million for early childhood education programs for poor kids. Property taxes will rise to pay the yearly $2.8 million cost for the 2nd & 3rd years of the program. This plan targets kids from birth to age 8, with intensive pre-school for toddlers 3-4. This program includes surprise visits to homes of young parents and placing parent coordinators in the schools to monitor parents, all funded by a property tax increase. 30 staffers visit homes of pregnant women and parents with kids up to age 3, to make sure that parents are raising their kids in a politically correct manner. Similar projects like the infamous Head Start program show no substantive gains for children after an initial few years.

SOCIAL EXPERIMENT PAYS WELL. The LC CEO earned a $4,375 bonus for furthering social engineering programs, 3.5% of his 2013 salary. His 2014 salary is $126,851. He received a 5% raise in 2012, above the inflation rate. Hired in 2011, he won a salary of $115,000 plus health benefits, 25% higher than his predecessor who herself grabbed a $12,000 consulting contract after departing. The LC immediately hired 2 lobbyists, both initially paid $1,500 per month, tax dollars used to obtain additional tax monies from the legislature. So unpopular is the LC that it pays $88,000 annually to a public relations firm to boost its reputation in the community.

MONEY DOWN THE RATHOLE. The leftist One World Health group handles several daily LC health operations, garnering over $881,000 in tax dollars in 2014. The LC approved a 1-yr. $210,000 contract with Communities in Schools to place “family liaisons” in poverty schools in North Omaha. These tax $$ pay for their salaries to coordinate welfare services for students and their families. Students must see these liaisons for attendance and misbehavior problems, basic economic needs, and family distress, whatever that means. The LC gave a similar $750,000 contract to Lutheran Family Services to provide liaisons in poverty Omaha and Bellevue public schools. $93,600 spent in 2009 for social workers for kids. Receiving a $10,000 contract was Rachel Wise, a liberal member of the State Board of Education, for consulting services. The LC offered a $166,000 grant to the Connections Project to coach black moms at a cost of $5,000 per mom. Money funds child care, toys, diapers, and gift cards to reward participants. No apparent support from absentee dads. The LC gave $405,000 in grants to 13 private organizations to send poor kids to garden tours and summer camps. These unproved programs that supposedly address the “whole child” have no direct effect on academic achievement. Spending our dollars as a welfare agency takes money from the LC focus, to raise test scores and graduation rates and reduce truancy. $250,000 in the 2011-12 LC budget for the Douglas County Attorney office to process truant students under the onerous state truancy law that saw many parents and their sick kids hauled before judges because of unavoidable extended child illnesses. LC board members often take all-expense paid junkets to national school conferences, although the LC itself is not a school board. In 2 yrs., the LC spent almost $15,000 for members to attend conferences, like the NE Association of School Boards conference. $3,700 for 2 members to attend a 2-day San Francisco meeting. The LC wasted $75,000 on a phone survey to parents regarding interest in focus schools, such as one with an environmental theme, asking for private racial and financial information. The LC duplicates many operations already conducted by its member school districts.

TRANSPORTATION COSTS. This scheme is a means for OPS to cut costs by dumping on adjacent districts its academically-failing students, taking advantage of LB 641 clauses that mandate free transportation to poor and illegal alien students, costs borne by suburban and Sarpy County school districts receiving this huge influx. Anticipated hikes in transportation costs legally can exceed spending lids. The LC open enrollment policy allows parents in Douglas and Sarpy Counties to send their kids to any public elementary, junior high, or high school in the 2 counties to promote socioeconomic diversity. Transportation is free for poor kids or those whose family income level helps their new school reach closer to a state objective of 40% of student population in poverty, social engineering. Poor kids have preference over children from higher income families. Cabs, vans, and buses collect kids each school day and give them free rides to schools sometimes miles away from their neighborhood schools. The Millard School District pays over $4,500 per student transferring in. This district in 2010 paid $8,514 to transport 1 kid, 29 times the average cost of busing a Millard grade school kid to a neighborhood school. Millard picks up students as far away as the Eppley Airfield area on a 90 min. ride to Millard North HS. Millard paid a total of $519,000 to transport 108 transferees, Papillion-La Vista paid $400,000 to move 67 kids, and Bellevue Schools paid $350,000 to herd 60 children. Bellevue cannot accommodate the transfers with its own bus system and hired 5 buses from a private company, costing $5,833 per transferee, over 8 times the cost per student for bus transportation in this district. OP$ paid a private contractor in 2011 $6,891 per 20 transferees, lacking its own bus capacity to move them. These costs, based on transportation contracts and routes, is twice that predicted. Westside Schools transportation costs have skyrocketed from $350,000 to $1.2 million in 3 yrs. Costs will rise as the LC publicizes and pushes open enrollment. Transporting rich and poor kids to reach socioeconomic diversity among school districts cost the state almost $1.5 million in 2010, but the cost will rise to $52 million, if the LC reaches its objective of obtaining socioeconomic balance at all 200+ metro schools, busing 26,000 kids across both counties at $2,000 apiece. Individual school districts must pay the transportation costs, later repaid by state aid. Though receiving financial compensation for transfer pupils, especially extra dollars for poor students and illegal aliens, this money does not cover the full cost of moving these kids. Many parents are abusing the open enrollment system by transferring their kids into other school districts, lying about their income under set guidelines. So lax is this system that parents who submit applications need not show documentation of their financial status. Affected schools have become magnets for illegal aliens seeking generous educational benefits. Free transportation via van or cab takes their kids to distant schools. Money now wasted on this transportation could instead fund better classroom instruction.

INVASION OF PRIVACY. The LC vigorously participated in a legislative plan to combat truancy by referring students and parents for prosecution by county attorneys. Also, it refers our children, with or without parental notification, to academic counseling, tutoring, individual and family therapy, social workers and “attendance navigators,” psychiatric and physical exams, and medical services in school-based health centers offering abortion information. The LC has invaded student privacy by asking from member districts academic and personal student information prohibited by the federal Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act, which requires schools to obtain written parental permission to release such information. Also, districts cannot release such material to the LC according to state law.

OBVIOUSLY UNFAIR. Parents have discovered that their children cannot attend schools of choice within their own district, because subsidized, poor transfer-in students are filling classroom spaces. The latter take precedence over kids who choose to attend another school within their district for convenience or to enroll in a special program. This outrage angers parents who pay property taxes to support their local schools. Property taxpayers in suburban districts pay to build new schools or renovate existing ones, not to accommodate their own children but students bused in. Typical social engineering redistribution of wealth.

TAKE ACTION NOW. Instead of each district individually receiving state aid, it deposits wholly into the LC, then redistributed mainly to poorer districts. First, legislators should repeal this common property tax levy that forces several school districts to subsidize OP$. This common levy helps OPS and the Ralston School District but penalizes Elkhorn, Bennington, Douglas County West, Bellevue, Papillion-La Vista, Gretna, and Springfield-Platteview districts. This morass only causes friction among school districts in the LC. Parental surveys continue to show that metro area parents definitely prefer safe neighborhood schools for their kids. Nevertheless, the LC conducts school fairs to entice parents to send their kids to schools outside their neighborhoods. The LC is worthless at raising pupil academic achievement, unfairly taxing several school districts forced into this system, and a waste of taxpayer resources. This layer of government is unnecessary and should face elimination. A 2010 World-Herald poll found that 46% of respondents believed that the LC creates waste and duplicates other educational institutions. Taxpayers continue to pay annually for this line on our property tax bills, despite LC failure to meet its own objectives.

Lobby your individual school board members to pressure the legislature to eliminate the LC entirely and reconfigure state aid to education in a way that rewards districts with basic curriculum and higher student achievement. Conservative State Sen. Bill Kintner leads the fight against the LC in the legislature. Instead of busing children across the metropolitan area for social engineering purposes, allow them great neighborhood schools where they can achieve academic excellence.

Research, documentation, and analysis for this issue paper done by Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, with express prior permission granted for its use by other groups in the NE Conservative Coalition Network. 11-14. C

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