LINCOLN — Even some Sarpy County opponents of the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties spoke highly Tuesday of a compromise bill that would refocus the controversial 11 school district entity.
Legislative Bill 585, which is expected to pass, would make early childhood education programs in low-income areas a new priority and is expected to halve transportation costs for some open-enrollment students.
State Sens. Jim Smith of Papillion and John Murante of Gretna said the bill improves the Learning Community — and isn't about killing it.
“I'm exceedingly pleased that we found some common ground,” Murante said. “There is more that can be done.”
“More” is not expected to happen this year. As part of a compromise, Smith, who sponsored the much-amended LB 585, had to promise he would not accept additional changes. Earlier this year, the senator had signed onto a bill eliminating the superboard, and there were suspicions LB 585 could be hijacked to accomplish that.
That won't happen, Smith told his colleagues.
“The Learning Community is law. It's here,” Smith said. “And I'm committed to doing everything I can to make it better.”
The Learning Community was created amid controversy in 2006 in an effort to equalize funding among Omaha and suburban school districts and close an academic achievement gap for disadvantaged students.
There have been several attempts to change or eliminate it since then.
Kent Rogert, the lobbyist for the Learning Community, said the amended LB 585 addresses some “irritants” for participating school districts.
For instance, the bill would eliminate free transportation for students using open enrollment to attend a different school within their home district, or to go to a district that does not share a boundary with their home district.
There would be exceptions for students who contribute to the socioeconomic diversity of their new school.
Rogert said the transportation change would cut in half the $3 million now being spent.
LB 585 would reduce the Learning Community's taxing authority by about one-third.
Money now spent on building or remodeling elementary learning centers would be shifted to developing preschool programs in low-income areas.
About $7 million a year would be available to fund early childhood education and to operate the two existing learning centers in north and South Omaha.
Two other Sarpy County senators criticized the Learning Community as debate began on LB 585. Papillion Sen. Bill Kintner described it as social engineering that his constituents oppose almost unanimously.
“It's still rotten,” he said. “You're not going to rehabilitate a rotten egg.”
Bellevue Sen. Scott Price questioned why education tax dollars were being spent on social services such as parenting classes for teen mothers and English as a Second Language instruction for adults.
Discussion on the bill was scheduled to resume this morning.
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