Thursday, July 28, 2011

Not just poorly defined, purposefully redefined!

Read my World Herald Article, Midlands Voices: Truancy remodel is poorly defined -, the headline being the only part I didn't write. Certainly the law is a remodel of school attendance policy but it's not just poorly defined, it's purposefully redefined! Even the U.S. Department of Justice defines truancy as "absent without excuse" while our law now removes the distinctions. Previously excused absences such as common illness, a death or serious illness in the immediate family, observance of religious holidays, educational activities, or personal reasons are now counted toward criminal truancy.

Inconvenient Truths: School Attendance Crisis

Does Nebraska Have an School Attendance Crisis?

State Senator Brad Ashford told Fox 42 reporter, Jonathan Athens, that curbing school absences in Nebraska "Is the number one issue…it's a crisis." Excuse me if I am suspicious that some lawmakers use the word “crisis” to manipulate public opinion in favor of whatever social engineering they’re in favor of. It would take a crisis for Nebraskans to support a total transformation of attendance policy that has real potential for abuse of parental rights and the integrity of Nebraska families.

I am convinced that the data doesn’t back up Sen. Ashford’s assertion. I realize that in Sen. Ashford believes that it is a real problem facing schools in his district especially, but it is certainly not a crisis. I will admit that the data does show that there are some real problems areas in the state, but it is most certainly not a statewide crisis that warrants a statewide answer.

It was clear to the Senators in Lincoln I talked to that this law was designed to target the Omaha Learning Community, and in particular a handful of problem areas in only a few of the 11 districts affected. This is the new trend in addressing a “crisis”; you stick everyone in the same box, regardless of need, and manage everything from governments as far removed from the people as possible.

So what are the facts, and what does this “crisis” really look like?

It is reported that in the 2010-2011 school year, 29 percent of Nebraska's public school children miss at least 10 days of school; 14 percent miss at least 15 days; and 7 percent of students miss 20 days or more. These are total absences, excused and unexcused; sick days, family vacations, etc, and does not contain any data to determine the educational standing among these categories.

So which number gets the most reductions under the new plans? That’s easy, the 29% of Nebraskan students who have a moderate amount of school absences (especially among very young children who miss school more regularly then their older siblings).

When lawmakers applaud the legislation by saying that school attendance will improve under the plan, I am certain of it. Parents have got the message. What good law-abiding Nebraskan parents would risk entanglement with social workers and “attendance navigators” to go to an out-of-town wedding?
Lawmakers have lauded this legislation as being a forward thinking transformation of the “culture of attendance” but what it really amounts to is a transformation of the “culture of parenting”. One in which good loving parents are afraid to remove their kids from school for any reasonable purpose and Nebraskans who rely on public education are considerably less free to exercise their natural rights as parents.

So is it necessary? 

Is Nebraska falling behind the nation academically? All along proponents of this transformation of school attendance policy have contended that it is necessary to address Nebraska juvenile crime, drop-out rates, and lagging educational success of Nebraska students.

Again the facts just don’t support the need for this state wide push. Nebraska ranks 6th nationally in High School graduation rates, with a graduation rate of 83.8% compared to the national average of 74.9%. This rate is much higher in many districts across the state, for example Millard Public School has a 98% graduation rate, yet they will be subject to the cumbersome changes under the legislation like everyone else.

“The Smartest State Award” ranked Nebraska 11th nationally graded in 21 categories, including:  average daily attendance, high school graduation rates/drop-out rates, percentage proficient or better in reading, writing, and mathematics, teacher salary as percent of salary for all workers, teacher-pupil ratio, and average class size, and revenue per student.

So why then are we doing this? 

This question is a lot harder to answer because it depends on who you talk to. People are persuaded to fall in line with this agenda for a variety of reasons too many to name here and now, and frankly its reasoning escapes me. What is obvious to me is that usually conservative Nebraska lawmakers have been persuaded to support what amount to a serious project in social engineering, well meaning for sure, but none then less a plan to force social outcomes through government regulation of family life.

The bottom line. I suspect that conservative support of this invasive legislation is driven by fiscal concerns, getting our tax dollars back from Washington anyway we can. In a meeting with the Governor Heineman’s policy advisor she confirmed to me that the legislation was a direct result of Nebraska’s application for Obama’s “Race to the Top” grant.

The Governor has adamantly denied that there is any funding connection to his support of the law, despite this fact. How does that work exactly? The legislation is a result of the process to apply for federal funding dollars, but it is not because of funding that the changes are made.

All things considered, the numbers and the motives, brings into question just how severe the truancy problem really is. Lawmakers assure parents that they are not seeking to criminalize kids but rather they wish to “reach out”. Judge Crnkovich, presiding Douglas County Truancy Judge, says we need to see judges and attorneys as “problem-solvers” who are there to provide counseling or match their families with social service provides to address the reasons why they are missing school.

The fact is that the law does criminalize even good students who miss school when excused by their parents in order to provide a mechanism by which “experts” can evaluate whether these excused absences are responsible. It amounts to dismissing of “parental supervision” in lieu of “supervision of parents.”

The law will puts thousands of Nebraska families under the jurisdiction of law enforcement, the “hammer”, as Judge Crnkovich calls it, that they need to require compliance with these “helpful” programs. It is also a fact that the legislation is not just aimed at students who miss 20 days but rather it creates a new class of delinquency, “excessive absenteeism” that is reached at only five days.
Too harsh? Absolutely, but can you blame them, after all they aim to avert a “crisis”.

*Research the truth yourself

Top 20 High School Graduation Rates by State:

Information gathered from the U.S. Department of Education, school year 2007-2008; released to the public in June of 2010. (

National Average

74.9 %

Graduation Rate
1. Wisconsin
89.6 %
2. Vermont
89.3 %
3. Iowa
86.4 %
4. Minnesota
86.4 %
5. South Dakota
84.4 %
6. Nebraska
83.8 %
7. North Dakota
83.8 %
8. Pennsylvania
82.7 %
9. Missouri
82.4 %
10. Connecticut
82.2 %

Breakdown of Nebraska’s High School Graduation Rates:
Sorted by race and compared to the national average

All Students
83.8 %
88.6 %
57 %
67.2 %
97.8 %
55.1 %

National Average: High School Graduation Rates

All Students
74.9 %
81 %
61.5 %
63.5 %
91.4 %
64.2 %

Smartest State Award, 2006-2007
Nebraska ranked 11th in the country, in 21 different criteria, such as:
·          Average daily attendance
·          High school graduation rates/drop-out rates
·          Percentage proficient or better in reading, writing, and mathematics
·          Teacher salary as percent of salary for all workers
·          Teacher-pupil ratio, and average class size
·          Revenue per student

Monday, July 18, 2011

Nebraska's Child Welfare System has Terrible Track Record!

This article should make Nebraskans who pride themselves in their conservative family centered values think twice about whether our state is as conservatives as it claims. Nebraska traps more children in foster care than almost any other state, holding them there at a rate roughly triple the national average. In 2009 Nebraska took away children at the second-highest rate in the country.

This is one more reason that I am concerned with the new truancy law that will classifies even a few school absences as a delinquent behavior and throws tens of thousand Nebraska families under the jurisdiction of HHS and Juvenile Justice just for managing their families as they judge to be responsible.

The more I delve into our state legislature on the truancy debate and juvenile justice reform and the more acquainted I become with lawmakers in our state the more convinced I have become that though we elect Republicans for President and Governor, legislation out of Lincoln is far more progressive then most Nebraskans realize.

Richard Wexler says that "no place has seen failure on the scale of Nebraska's" child welfare system. Our state government will continue to fail Nebraska families if citizens don't stand up and take their place as the second legislative house in our unicameral system and check the powers of the legislature. We have got to push for reforms to protect parental rights and the integrity of the family.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A War on Truancy or A War on Parenting?

“A war on truancy” sums up how a growing number of parents feel about this plan to define students who are absent as few as five times as suffering from “excessive absenteeism” regardless of their academic performance. How can any government official who values freedom and family feel good about classifying parents whose children are succeeding in school - despite unusual circumstances that create a lot of absences - as criminals?

The World Herald Head Line "A battle plan for 'war on truancy'" only underscores the combative approach our state is adopting to address a small percentage of truly at-risk youth. Instead the state seeks to blur the lines between education and law enforcement and define students as at-risk at a very early stage.

The A/B students and their families who were dragged into these diversion programs last year and have suffered the intrusive approach to increasing attendance in school have been reassured that the legislation is a work in progress. A callous response to families whose lives have been wrecked as Guinea pigs in this new plan.

With the passage of LB 463, it appears as though the dire consequences to families in our state will only increase in number.