March 2016


Contact:    Katie Linehan

Phone:      402.915.3257



Nebraska Legislature Tackles Taxes, State Funding to Schools

Omaha, NE (March 30, 2016) – Today the Nebraska Legislature turned attention towards funding K-12 schools during floor debate on LB959. This discussion is crucial and will be ongoing. Taxes affect every Nebraskan and so does public education. But the discussion must also consider whether increased funding correlates to improved outcomes for students.

“We cannot continue to omit student outcomes from the discussion about K-12 funding and spending. It’s irresponsible to taxpayers and unfair to students,” said Educate Nebraska’s executive director, Katie Linehan, “over the past twenty-five years, Nebraska has raised taxes significantly to fund K-12 schools, but student outcomes have failed to keep pace with states that tax citizens less and have higher rates of student poverty.”

Since 1992, Nebraska has increased K-12 spending by more than 30% (in current dollars), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. From 1992 – 2011, only four states had smaller gains in student learning than Nebraska, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, even though Nebraska increased spending by more than most states, according to the Digest of Education Statistics. From 2008-2013, Nebraska increased K-12 spending by over 10%, a rate greater than all but two states and the District of Columbia. Nebraska’s per student spending is now greater than all but sixteen states.

Unlike most states, Nebraska has done very little to adopt and implement low to no-cost policies linked to improved student performance. Indiana, for instance, has adopted student-centered reforms that have resulted in improved student learning. Students in Indiana perform better than students in Nebraska in math and reading, even though Indiana has a higher percentage of students living in poverty, spends approximately $2,000 less per student per year than Nebraska, and decreased spending by 3% from 2008-2013.

“We should take a serious look at the states that have improved the quality of education children receive by adopting student-centered policy reform. Prioritizing education means prioritizing student learning, not just funding,” said Linehan.

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

Teachers are transformative: not only responsible for imparting academic mastery, a great teacher also builds self-confidence and character in her students. Most people can name at least one teacher that made a major difference in their life. Few, if any, jobs are as important.

Those choosing a career in teaching should be recognized for the importance of the work and prepared to do it well from the start. This starts with attracting highly qualified individuals into the profession and ensuring preparation programs are of the highest quality.

To attract and retain great teachers, as in any profession, salaries should also be competitive. Yet, Nebraska pays starting teachers less than all but four states. This discrepancy in pay cannot be explained away by low spending on K-12 education alone. In fact, Nebraska spends more per student than most states and more than the national average.

As an example, according to the National Education Association, Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, and Wyoming, all pay starting teachers more than Nebraska:

Starting teacher salaries:

Nebraska – $30,844

Colorado – $32,126

Kansas – $33,389

Iowa – $33,226

Wyoming – $43,269

Of these states, only Wyoming spends more per student than Nebraska.

These figures are troubling. New teachers, particularly in the most rural parts of Nebraska, are often drawn to neighboring states based on pay alone, compounding teaching shortages in high need areas. Many young people entering the profession also choose to leave the state for programs that recognize effectiveness, allowing young teachers to earn higher salaries earlier in their career.

In recognizing the importance of great teachers for every student, Nebraska should move towards policies and practices that not only ensure the most qualified individuals enter and remain in the profession, but also that these individuals are well compensated for the crucial work they do.


Today marks the last day of the Nebraska State Basketball Tournament. Hats off to the participating teams and all student athletes throughout Nebraska as this season comes to an end, as well as the families and coaches who make it all possible.

Organized sports are a great American tradition. In Nebraska, drive by a soccer field on a Saturday in the spring, a baseball field in the summer, or a football field in the fall, and you’re sure to see swarms of kids as young as four and five years old running around, bleachers full of families cheering them on.

Only a fraction of those five-year olds are likely to play at the high school level. Even a smaller percentage will play college sports. And a very finite number of students may go on the play at the professional level. And, inevitably, all athletic careers come to an end.

Unlike in sports, all five-year olds will go on to attend high school. Each should be prepared to enter and succeed in college. And all must be ready for life after school. Just as great coaching and rigorous training leads to success on the court, great teaching and rigorous standards lead to success in the classroom. We owe it to students to provide the necessary conditions for such success.

Coaching and Teaching:

Imagine that a coach who failed to win a single game for years was guaranteed that job for life. Would you want your child to play on that team? Imagine if a young Tom Osborne was fired because a different coach with a lousy record who had been coaching for a few more years wanted the job. Would you still go to Husker games? Would you even be a fan?

Just as coaches are critical to success on the field, teachers are critical to success in the classroom. Like great coaches, teachers push students to be their best. They recognize each child’s individual strengths and build upon them. They inspire students to reach their full potential through hard work and determination. They give students the tools necessary to achieve at high levels, celebrating success while encouraging continued growth.

Yet, in Nebraska, unlike coaches, teachers are compensated and retained based on years of service, not effectiveness. A teacher whose students gain only ½ a year of learning in one academic year will keep his job even when a teacher with one year less experience attains two years of learning. This is not a fair way to treat teachers and it’s not an acceptable way to treat students.

Teachers, like coaches, deserve to be treated like professionals and celebrated for leading students to success. We would not keep our children on a team with an ineffective coach, so we should not accept that some children attend schools where some teachers show little ability to teach.

Rigorous Preparation:

Imagine shortening a field or widening a net: athletes are more likely to score, but will be less prepared to do so under regulatory conditions. The same goes for success in the classroom: when K-12 standards are low, students are more likely to receive a passing grade, but will be less prepared for success in college and career.

Today, Nebraska has among the lowest academic standards in the country. From 2011-2015, Nebraska was one of only two states to lower K-12 standards. Whereas the Nebraska Department of Education reports that 81% of 4th graders are proficient in reading, the National Assessment for Educational Progress reports that number at only 40%.

High standards, like great coaching, improve performance and, ultimately, lead to better outcomes. We would not want our children to prepare for basketball tryouts using a hoop at 40% regulation height, so we should not accept it when schools tell students they’re prepared to graduate from high school, knowing they’re unlikely to succeed in college.

Winning off the Court

Nebraskans must value every child’s opportunity to succeed through access to a high quality education more so than a high performing sports team (yes, even in the land of the Huskers). We can tolerate losing a championship game from time to time, even grow from it, but we should not tolerate keeping children from receiving the education necessary to become champions off the court.



Contact:    Katie Linehan

Phone:      402.915.3257



Campaign attacking student-centered reforms is bad for Nebraska

Omaha, NE (March 7, 2016) – In an attempt to strengthen resolve for the status quo, the pledge campaign recently launched by the anti-education reform lobbying group, Nebraska Loves Public Schools, misleads Nebraskans about opportunities to improve the quality of education for all students.

Nebraskans support public education and so does Educate Nebraska. More than 300,000 students attend public elementary and secondary schools in this state. To drive success and expand opportunity, we must focus on all students in every school.

“We cannot expect improvement without recognizing the need for growth. While we join most Nebraskans in our love for public education, including public charter schools, the Nebraska Loves Public Schools campaign seeks to embrace the status quo at the expense of expanded opportunity for all students, and poor and minority students in particular,” said Educate Nebraska’s executive director, Katie Linehan.  

According to, which relies on data from the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), 64% of the students attending public elementary and middle schools in Nebraska attend a school with a combined math and reading proficiency rate of less than 50%.

According to NAEP, only 40% of 4th graders in Nebraska are proficient in reading (and only 23% of low income students, 22% of black students, and 18% of Hispanic students).  

According to the Schott Foundation for Public Education, Nebraska has the second largest black-white student high school graduation rate gap in the nation and, at 50%, the worst black male graduation rate.

According to the Nebraska Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, only 26% of those enrolling in community college in Nebraska graduate in four years. At Metro Community College, 66% of enrollees require remedial math.

“The movement to provide every student with a high quality education in not an attack on students and it’s not an attack on the concept of public education. It’s about improving outcomes for every student in every school in Nebraska,” said Linehan.


Today’s Omaha World Herald editorial, “OPS broadens leaders’ bench,” highlights exciting changes in the district. A new focus on principal placement strategies and training will improve the quality of education students receive. School leaders impact teacher effectiveness and parent engagement, leading to improved student outcomes.  

As OPS Superintendent Mark Evans remarked, “Without a high-quality principal and good teachers, it’s really hard to move a school forward.”  The story also notes that districts in cities like Denver have improved as a result of such practices.

While certainly a step in the right direction, the urgency to improve the quality of education for all students must remain. Though preparing future principals early is important, all educators should be hired, evaluated and retained based on effectiveness. Currently, the system values length of service over quality. This means that less effective educators get preference in hiring and retention policies, while also getting paid more.

Union imposed salary rules also make it more difficult to attract highly effective educators into the district and harder still to attract them to the highest need schools. As a result, educators working in Omaha’s suburban districts earn more. And OPS employees with seniority often move to less challenging schools. This means that the schools with the most need of drastic and swift improvement are the least likely to have high-quality principals and good teachers.  

In comparing OPS to Denver, we must also consider other changes that have impacted student outcomes in that city. According to a recent interview with Denver’s Mayor, Michael Hancock, school improvement can be traced to the following:

  • Improvement in how the city recruits teachers and administrators. Hancock credits this, in part, to partnerships with programs like Teach for America.
  • Becoming a national leader in how district schools work collaboratively with charter schools.     
  • Recruiting more teachers of color.
  • Creating a unique pay system for teachers that rewards performance.

Nebraska law currently prohibits programs like Teach for America, which places highly qualified individuals in high poverty schools, from operating in Nebraska. Opening the door to such programs would ease staffing shortages and draw effective educators into the system.  

Nebraska law also prohibits charter schools. This prevents families from choosing a high performing alternative immediately. As a result, many families in Omaha have no choice but to attend a failing school. While overall improvement is good, children cannot afford to wait. The prohibition on charter schools also limits opportunities to share best practices and collaborate with district schools.  

By expanding opportunity to enter the profession, and rewarding effectiveness, as well as opening the door to high performing charter schools, students in Omaha will benefit and the Omaha Public School district will continue to improve. At a time when most schools struggle to meet proficiency rates of more than 25%, students deserve urgency.