Policy Documents

Race to the Top - Can We Compete: Nebraska's Charter School Initiative

Vicki E. Murray, Ph.D. –
January 1, 2010



Today, 40 states including the District of Columbia allow public charter schools. That number will likely increase since states’ eligibility for $4.35 billion in federal Race to the Top Funds de-pends in part on ensuring conditions for high-performing charter schools. States without char-ter laws are at a competitive disadvantage for those funds, including Nebraska whose Race-to-the-Top share is as much as $75 million. State officials deny the need for public charter schools in spite of mounting evidence that the current system is not serving students well. Regardless of grade level or socio-economic background, alarming numbers of Nebraska students are not proficient in the basics or prepared for college.

On average, only around one-third (35.8 percent) of Nebraska’s 4

th and 8th graders score profi-cient in reading and math according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card. Just 45 percent of 4th and 8th graders, who are not poor, score proficient in those subjects, dropping to around 20 percent of poor 4th and 8th graders, to just under 16 percent of Hispanic 4th and 8th graders, and plummeting to 11 percent of Black 4th and 8th graders who score proficient.


Likewise, alarming proportions of Nebraska students do not score college ready on the Ameri-can College Test (ACT) across student sub-groups—even though more Nebraska students than ever before report taking core academic courses. Specifically, only 29 percent of White students met ACT benchmarks in English, reading, math, and science, compared to 12 percent of His-panic students and just 7 percent of black students.

In spite of Nebraska’s 90 percent high school graduation rate, only 66.7 percent of graduates enter college within one year. More alarming is that less than half of all Nebraska college fresh-men (49.1 percent) complete college degrees. The college graduation rate for White students is 50.7 percent compared to just 32.5 percent for Hispanic students and 32.4 percent for Black stu-dents.

Nationwide charter schools enroll a disproportionate number of minority and low-income stu-dents who would likely drop out absent a public charter-school lifeline. Charter schools not only improve achievement of the students they enroll but that of students in surrounding tra-ditional public schools as well.