January 2016

This week we joined our school choice partners as well as hundreds of students, parents, educators and policymakers to celebrate School Choice Week.

On Monday, Governor Pete Ricketts signed a proclamation declaring January 24-30 Nebraska School Choice Week.

Link to coverage of the proclamation ceremony below:


On Thursday, over 500 students, parents and educators participated in a School Choice Week rally on the steps of the Nebraska State Capitol.  Speakers included Governor Ricketts, Lt. Governor Mike Foley, Senator Bob Krist, Our Lady of Lourdes student Maximo Gayton, school choice advocate Derrell Bradford, Christ Lutheran student Ellie Volk, LEARN Coalition founder Clarice Jackson, Nebraska homeschool advocate David Lostroh, and Educate Nebraska Advisory Board member Ean Garrett.  The rally included student performances and the School Choice Week dance as well.

Link to photos of the rally below:


Link to coverage of the rally below:


Thanks to all of the students, parents and educators who came out to celebrate school choice while calling for expanded opportunities for students in Nebraska.


Contact: Katie Linehan
Phone: 402.915.3257
E­mail: K atie@EducateNebraska.org


Weeklong celebration of school choice in Nebraska

Omaha, NE (January 24, 2016) ­ Today marks the first day of a weeklong school choice celebration in Nebraska. In collaboration with our school choice partners, Educate Nebraska will join in celebrating existing traditional school choice in Nebraska while highlighting the need for expanded school choice to include public charter schools and private school options for low income families.

“Nebraskans overwhelmingly support a family’s right to choose the best school options for their students. Educate Nebraska looks forward to celebrating existing school choice while highlighting the need for expanded school options such as opening the door to public charter schools and empowering low­income families with high performing private school options,” said Katie Linehan, executive director of Educate Nebraska.

Two School Choice Week events will take place at the Nebraska State Capitol this week, details below:

On Monday, January 25, Governor Ricketts will be joined by approximately 50 area students, parents, teachers, and school choice supporters as he signs the School Choice Week proclamation, declaring January 24­30 Nebraska School Choice Week.

On Thursday, January 28, Educate Nebraska will join our partners in a celebration of school choice. To date, more than 900 school choice supporters have signed up to attend the rally, which will take place on the steps of the Capitol, begins at 10 A.M. Featured speakers include:

  • ­  Governor Pete Ricketts
  • ­  Lt. Governor Mike Foley
  • ­  Senator Bob Krist
  • ­  Educate Nebraska’s Preston Harris
  • ­  Our Lady of Lourdes student, Maximo Gayton
  • ­  School Choice Advocate Derrell Bradford
  • ­  Christ Lutheran student, Ellie Volk
  • ­  School Choice Advocate and LEARN Coalition founder, Clarice Jackson
  • ­  Homeschool Advocate Davis Lostroh
  • ­  School Choice Advocate Ean Garrett


A press conference featuring Governor Ricketts and other rally participants will follow at 11.15 A.M. in the Rotunda.


Contact:   Katie Linehan

Phone:      402.915.3257

E-mail:      Katie@EducateNebraska.org



State teacher’s union survey misleads Nebraskans on school choice


Omaha, NE (January 22, 2016) – Please find a statement by Educate Nebraska’s executive director, Katie Linehan, below:


Today the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA) released results from a poll conducted over the past two months. Released on the eve of Nebraska School Choice Week, this poll confirms one thing that we already know: nearly three quarters of Nebraska parents support public school choice.  Educate Nebraska agrees with the sentiment shared by the president of the Nebraska Association of School Boards: Nebraskans prefer decision-making power to be close to home.  Nothing is closer to home than a parent’s’ right to choose the best school option for his or her student.   


At Educate Nebraska, raising awareness of opportunity in public education and empowering parents are among our core goals. Unfortunately, this survey does not give us any insight into additional education options that should be available to children and families in Nebraska.  The questions regarding charter schools contained too many factual inaccuracies, rendering those results useless. Charter schools are public schools and are held accountable for results. They are not randomly created by individuals or organizations without oversight.


Too often, high quality traditional public school options for families in Nebraska are limited by overcrowding, resulting in thousands of children having no other option than to attend persistently low performing schools. According to a 2015 study by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO), an organization cited by the NSEA in the past, on average, students attending urban charter schools gain an additional 40 days of learning each year in math and 28 days of learning each year in reading.  


Nebraska must move towards policies and practices that prioritize student interests in the K-12 education system.  Nothing is more crucial to future success than access to a high quality education. We welcome the opportunity to conduct a valid survey, with bias-neutral questions, in the near future.


Contact: Katie Linehan
Phone: 402.915.3257
E-mail: Katie@EducateNebraska.org

Educate Nebraska to participate in multiple events to celebrate school choice

Omaha, NE (January 19, 2016) – January 24-30 marks school choice week in Nebraska. Educate Nebraska will participate in a host of activities to celebrate school choice and advocate for expanding high quality school choices for all students in Nebraska.

On Monday, January 25, Governor Pete Ricketts will sign a proclamation recognizing school choice week and calling for expanding school choice, including opening the door to high performing charter schools and opportunities for low income children to attend high performing private schools. The ceremony will take place at 12.30 P.M. in the Governor’s hearing room at the State Capitol building. Several students, teachers and parents will join in the ceremony.

On Thursday, January 28, a school choice week rally will take place on the steps of the Capitol, beginning at 10 A.M. To date, over 900 people, mostly students, have signed up for the event. Governor Ricketts, Lieutenant Governor Mike Foley, Senator Bob Krist, and several additional speakers, including students, parents and educators, will also address the crowd.

“More and more Nebraskans realize how high quality school options benefit students, families, and communities,” said Educate Nebraska’s executive director, Katie Linehan. “Educate Nebraska looks forward to highlighting the need for more choices, including opening the door to high performing public charter schools, during this weeklong celebration. We applaud Governor Ricketts, Lieutenant Governor Foley and Senator Krist for fighting to ensure all students and families in Nebraska have high quality educational options and a chance for a bright future,” Linehan said.

For more information about Educate Nebraska, please visit www.EducateNebraska.org

Borrowed from our friends at National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (www.publiccharters.org)

What are Public Charter Schools?

Charter schools, created more than 20 years ago to improve our nation’s public school system and close the achievement gap, are unique public schools that have the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for improving student achievement. As a result, they raise the bar for what is possible in public education.

Charter schools foster a partnership between parents, teachers and students to create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are given the freedom to be innovative in their classrooms to help improve learning, and students are provided the structure they need to learn. This holds all groups accountable for the most important goal: improving student achievement.

Charter schools are also held accountable to state and federal academic standards, ensuring a high-quality education for their students. There are more than 6,700 charter schools across 42 states and the District of Columbia educating nearly 3 million children.

What Makes Charter Schools Public Schools?

Charter schools, while operating independent of a school district, are public schools. Just like traditional public schools, charter schools are funded by local, state and federal tax dollars based on student enrollment. They are free, do not have special entrance requirements and do not charge tuition. Charter schools are not religious and cannot discriminate against students on any basis.

Are Charter Schools For-Profit?

Charter schools choose their own management structure: 67 percent of all charter schools are independently run non-profit, single site schools; 20 percent are run by non-profit organizations that run more than one charter school; and just under 13 percent are run by for-profit companies. For-profit charter schools have to meet financial oversight regulations, just like any company the government contracts with to provide a service.

How are Public Charter Schools Held Accountable to State Educational Standards?

Public charter schools are required to meet all state and federal education standards, just like traditional public schools. In addition, they are judged on how well they meet student achievement goals established by their charter contracts. A quality public charter school must meet rigorous academic, financial and managerial standards.

What Makes Charter Schools Successful?

Charter schools are successful because they are:

Fostering Innovation: Charter schools allow teachers the freedom to be more innovative while focusing on improving student achievement. By giving teachers the ability to try new methods to help students learn, charter schools are developing effective new teaching models that can be replicated in traditional public schools. With the flexibility to modernize and develop successful new education practices, teachers improve learning and share results with the wider public school system for broader benefits.

Increasing Achievement in Underserved Communities: Charter schools believe all students are capable of learning and succeeding, and provide an important public school option to students from underserved communities and low income areas. By creating an environment tailored to these students’ needs, charter schools have successfully demonstrated that underserved children can thrive at a high level. Additionally, charter schools bring programs to disadvantaged neighborhoods that not only serve children, but the whole community, providing parents with education on parenting, nutrition and more.

How are Charter Schools Making a Difference?

Results show that charter schools are making a difference:

Sixteen academic studies have been published on charter school performance since 2010, four national studies and 12 regional studies from throughout the country. Fifteen of the 16 found that students in charter schools do better in school than their traditional school peers. One study found mixed results. The most recent of those studies, by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, found that charter schools do a better job teaching low income students, minority students, and students who are still learning English than traditional schools.

In 25 schools districts around the country, more than 20 percent of all schoolchildren attend a public charter school. New Orleans has a higher percentage of children in charter schools than anywhere else in the country. Students attending public charter schools in New Orleans learn an additional four months in reading and five months in math than their peers attending traditional public schools. Statewide, students attending public charter schools in Louisiana gained an additional 50 days of learning in reading and 65 days in math compared to their peers attending traditional public schools.

Children who attend charter schools are more likely to graduate from high school than their traditional school peers. And dozens of charter schools across the country have 100 percent college acceptance rates for their graduating seniors.

At one charter school in Arizona, BASIS, students scored higher on an international test called the PISA than students from anywhere in the world. At the Success Academy charter school in Harlem, every fourth grader passed the state’s science exam. In 2012, every high school senior at an Uncommon charter school took the SAT exam, achieving an average score that was 20 points above the College Board’s benchmark for college readiness.
And charter schools continue to disproportionately top the lists of America’s best high schools in Newsweek, US News and World Report, and the Washington Post. In fact, on these lists more than a quarter of the best high schools are charter schools.

How are Public Charter Schools Held Financially Accountable?

Since public charter schools are funded with public dollars, they are required by law to be held accountable for how taxpayer dollars are spent with regular audits and ongoing reviews from their authorizing entities.

What Are Some Successful Innovations within Public Charter Schools?

Across the country, public charter schools are creating a wide variety of innovations, including:

Curriculum design (e.g., Montessori, Core Knowledge, Advanced Placement Courses, Foreign Language Immersion Programs, Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics)

Extended learning time

School cultures with high expectations for all students and adults

More structured and disciplined learning environments

Rewarding high-quality teachers with higher pay

Multi-age programs

How are Public Charter Schools Funded?

When a student transfers from a traditional public school to a public charter school, the funding associated with that student will follow him or her to the public charter school. Public charter schools do not add any new costs to the state’s public education system. They simply move funding associated with a student from one public school to another based upon the decisions of families.

The following was published by our school choice partner, the LEARN Coalition:

President Barack Obama visits the Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, La., Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

President Barack Obama visits the Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, La., Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)


This Wednesday, President Obama will visit Omaha. This will be the President’s first visit to Nebraska since taking office in 2008.1 He should seize this opportunity to address an education system in Omaha that is failing too many children, and children of color in particular. The President also has an opportunity to address shocking and ongoing disparities in Omaha with regard to unemployment, violence, the juvenile justice system, and the over-incarceration of black men. The President’s leadership has the potential to put Omaha on a better path.

Sixteen months before President Obama took office, the Omaha World Herald published an article called “Omaha in Black and White: Poverty Amid Prosperity.” The article addressed troubling disparities along racial lines. The worst black child poverty rate in the country was one of many examples. Omaha’s Mayor at the time pledged to address the academic achievement gap. The President of the Chamber of Commerce discussed a development plan for North Omaha, the heart of Omaha’s black community.2

There was also reference in the 2007 Omaha World Herald article to new initiatives aimed at alleviating poverty and improving educational outcomes for black and Latino children. Within one year, many of Omaha’s most generous philanthropists launched the Building Bright Futures initiative and, shortly thereafter, the Avenue Scholars Foundation, to do just that. A retired Omaha Superintendent served as CEO of both. Within six years, Building Bright Futures shuttered after spending $50 million and showing no significant progress.3

During this same time, urban charter schools rapidly expanded around the nation.4 Children attending urban charter schools, on average, gain an additional 40 days of learning in math and 28 days of learning in reading each year.5 The benefits for poor children and children of color are even more substantial.6 Furthermore, children living in poverty who attend high performing charter schools are not only more likely to perform better in school, but also more likely to attend college, less likely to experience teen pregnancy and less likely to be incarcerated.7  Yet, in 2016, Nebraska remains one of only seven states to not allow public charter schools. 8

According to the Omaha World Herald, during his visit, “Obama will chat about ‘the progress we’ve made and how we can continue taking action in the next year to help hardworking Americans get ahead. Nebraska’s low unemployment rate is just one reason why the White House thinks that the city makes a great backdrop for the conversation.’”9 The President’s conversation regarding low unemployment should consider why Omaha has one of the worst black unemployment rates in the nation.10

In his ongoing efforts to address and reduce gun violence nationwide, President Obama also has an opportunity to address the violence plaguing Omaha: in 2011, Nebraska had the worst black homicide rate in the nation.11 There were 37 homicides in Omaha that year. In 2015, there were 50 homicides, the most in recorded history.12 Police speculate that at least half of the murders in Omaha are gang related.13

Black men make up a disproportionate percentage of gang members as well as incarcerated individuals, including juveniles in the criminal justice system.14 Gang members rarely graduate from high school.15 Of all juveniles entering into the court system, 85% are functionally illiterate. The same can be said for 60% of all prison inmates. Inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% for those who received no help.16 Therefore, to adequately address gun violence, juvenile justice, and over incarceration, the President must also address black student outcomes in Nebraska.

Though Nebraska has the second highest high school graduation rate in the country, according to the Schott Foundation for Public Education, Nebraska has the second worst graduation rate for black males (50%) and the largest black-white graduation gap in the nation.17,18 In 2013, black students in Nebraska performed worse on the National Assessment for Educational Progress in math than did black eighth graders in any other state.19 Many schools in North Omaha have a combined math and reading proficiency rate below 20%. 20

As a longtime champion of K12 education reform, the President supports opening the doors to, and sustaining, high performing public charter schools.21 The President’s courage to fight for such reforms has positively impacted children’s lives across the nation. Students, and students of color in particular, have been the benefactors. The President took such issues head-on before many in his party were willing to do so. Given his record of putting students first, despite the political risk, the President should not waste an opportunity to do the same in Omaha.

If you are white, perhaps Omaha is the best place to live in the country: jobs are plentiful, neighborhoods are safe, and high quality schools are abundant, as is the opportunity to choose amongst them. But Omaha may be the worst place in America to be black: high-paying jobs are scarce, violence is rampant, and the neighborhood schools are failing. The cause for such disparities may be complicated. The opportunity for the President to address them is not.

1 http://www.omaha.com/news/metro/ticketstoobamasspeechatunotobedistributed/article_74b3218cb71d11e59372235d826ed333.html

2 http://www.uaex.edu/businesscommunities/strategicplanning/docs/conference/Omaha%20in%20Black%20and%20WhitePoverty%20Amid%20Prosperity.pdf

3 http://www.omaha.com/news/yearsandmlateromahaeducationalphilanthropyundergoingoverhaul/article_9338c1d0945f57a9a168de846e23ae82.html

4 http://www.publiccharters.org/getthefacts/

5 http://urbancharters.stanford.edu/download/Urban%20Charter%20School%20Study%20Report%20on%2041%20Regions.pdf

6 http://urbancharters.stanford.edu/download/Urban%20Charter%20School%20Study%20Report%20on%2041%20Regions.pdf

7 http://www.nber.org/papers/w19581

8 http://www.publiccharters.org/getthefacts/lawdatabase/

9 http://www.omaha.com/news/metro/ticketstoobamasspeechatunotobedistributed/article_74b3218cb71d11e59372235d826ed333.html

10 http://www.ibtimes.com/omahanebraskamostdangerousplaceamericabeblack1548466

11 http://www.ibtimes.com/omahanebraskamostdangerousplaceamericabeblack1548466

12 http://dataomaha.com/homicides

13 http://www.ibtimes.com/omahanebraskamostdangerousplaceamericabeblack1548466

14 http://www.covenantwithblackamerica.com

15 http://www.csun.edu/~hcchs006/13.html

16 http://www.covenantwithblackamerica.com

17 http://www.omaha.com/news/education/nebraskaiowaleadnationagainonhighschoolgraduationrates/article_187a75ff70165731ade9b4f11f4befc4.html

18 http://blackboysreport.org

19 https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/

20 www.schoolgrades.org

21 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/10/obamaeducationplanspee_n_173405.htm

We’re thrilled to announce a new member of the Educate Nebraska team: Gillian Quinn-Pineda (Jill). Jill is a Nebraska native and has been changing students’ lives for the better since graduating with her degrees in Political Science and Sociology from Gonzaga University.  Jill will serve on our Board of Advisors.

Jill joined Teach for America and was voted Teacher of the Year while at her placement school, where she taught for three years.  Teach for America’s mission is to enlist, develop, and mobilize as many as possible of our nation’s most promising future leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence.

Jill went on to teach for three years at KIPP Spirit College Preparatory.  KIPP, a network of high performing public charter schools, serves over 60,000 students in 20 states across the country.  KIPP works in underserved communities to prepare students for success in college, in careers, and in life.  KIPP believes every student living in every community deserves the opportunity to attend a great school.  Students at KIPP schools far outperform their district school peers in math and reading, and are much more likely to attend and graduate from college.

Jill went on to become a Fisher Fellow. The Fisher Fellowship is a year-long leadership development program offered by the KIPP Foundation to prepare leaders to open new KIPP schools.

Currently, Jill serves as the Founding School Leader of KIPP Northeast College Preparatory (KNCP), a high school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Houston, Texas.  KNCP opened in 2013 with a founding class of 120 freshmen, and today serves approximately 400 students in grades 9-11.  In 2017, KNCP will graduate its founding class.

Jill participated in the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program (REEP), the nation’s foremost leadership development program of highly motivated educators committed to leading public schools. In 2015, Jill was selected by Raise Your Hand Texas to participate in the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Summer Principal Institute.

In 2013, Jill returned to Nebraska to advocate for the LB593, the bill to allow public, non-profit charter schools in Omaha.  Below is a link to the transcript from that hearing.  Jill’s testimony begins on page 37.

We are so fortunate that Jill has agreed to serve on our Board of Advisors and look forward to her expertise informing our mission to always put kids first by advocating for policies and practices proven to benefit all students.


Yesterday marked the official launch of Educate Nebraska. While Educate Nebraska works to improve K-­12 outcomes across the state, the most urgent need for reform exists in communities with too few high quality schools.

North Omaha has the highest concentration of failing schools in Nebraska. This is not only a North Omaha problem. It is not only an Omaha problem. This is a statewide concern and requires statewide support for solutions.

Nebraska’s Constitution requires that all children, aged 5-­21, have access to an education. When only 12% of children are proficient in math, which is the reality in the elementary school less than one block from yesterday’s launch event, those children are being denied an education.

Too many Nebraska policy-­makers blame families and outside factors for low achievement in K-­12 schools. They continue to do so in the face of evidence that all children can succeed when given the opportunity to attend a high performing school. They do so while denying families high quality school choices, choices readily available to middle and upper­class families in Nebraska.

The staunchest opponents to needed K-­12 reform often fight to improve access to college, curb teen pregnancy, and decrease the need for incarceration. Yet, research shows, students living in poverty who attend a high performing charter school not only perform better in K-­12 schools, but are more likely to attend college, less likely to experience teen pregnancy and less likely to be incarcerated.

In other words, those fighting to address various social ills, those who frequently speak out about social justice and compassion for the vulnerable, are often the ones standing in the way of proven solutions and expanded opportunity.

Educate Nebraska won’t tolerate excuses for failure and neither should you. We will always put students first. We hope you join us.

Please find links below to media coverage related to our launch.




Above photo: Educate Nebraska’s Board of Advisors member, Cameron Gales, Educate Nebraska’s Executive Director, Katie Linehan, Educate Nebraska’s Development Director, Preston Harris, Black Men United’s Executive Director, Willie Hamilton, and the LEARN Coalition’s Founder, Clarice Jackson at yesterday’s launch celebration.

Thank you for visiting our website and checking out the Educate Nebraska blog. We believe every child has the right to a high quality education. Working together, we will fight to put students in Nebraska first, always.

While many children in Nebraska attend a high performing school, far too many do not. While overall student performance has increased over time, Nebraska has failed to keep pace with the rate of improvement enjoyed by the rest of the country. Nebraska also suffers from some of the largest achievement gaps in the nation. In other words, we’re falling behind and the situation is particularly dire for children in poverty and children of color.

States across the nation have adopted meaningful reforms, leading to significant and sustained gains in student learning. Studying such reforms and the positive impact they’ve had, and looking to high performing schools in Nebraska as an example, we know what’s working for kids. Educate Nebraska advocates to improve all schools for all students in Nebraska by:

We invite you to join us as we work to empower families, strengthen schools, and improve education in Nebraska. And please check back often for updates, news and events related to our mission.


Contact: Katie Linehan
Phone: 402.915.3257
E­mail: Katie@EducateNebraska.org


Organization Committed to High Quality K­12 Education in Nebraska

Omaha, NE (January 3, 2016)—Educate Nebraska, a new organization committed to ensuring that every child in Nebraska receives a high quality education, will host an official launch event today in Omaha. The event, taking place at the Kumani Center, 4200 North 30th Street, Omaha, NE 68111, begins at 3 P.M.

Educate Nebraska works to empower families, strengthen schools, and improve education across the state by promoting policies and practices that put students first.

“While Nebraska benefits from many great schools, as a state, we’re falling behind. The situation is particularly dire for children of color and children living in poverty,” said Educate Nebraska’s Executive Director, Katie Linehan, “We advocate for what’s working best for students so that every child has the opportunity to succeed.”

Educate Nebraska focuses on expanding high quality school choices, empowering effective educators, and utilizing meaningful data to drive improvement. To learn more, visit www.EducateNebraska.org.