Ernie Chambers is the only Black state senator in Nebraska.
And on Thursday, April 13, Chambers helped amend and pass into law a measure that will resegregate Omaha public schools into three racially distinct districts, one Black, one primarily Latino, and one White.
Omaha public schools were integrated by a court order and ran a mandatory bussing system from 1976 to 1999.
The legislation stems from an effort by Omaha school district to annex schools within the city limits that were primarily White but controlled by suburban and independent school districts.
School Board officials argued that it would increase integration and equalize the tax base.
But suburban parents feared the district would reinstate mandatory bussing, and rebelled against the campaign.
Thus the state legislature began work on a bill to make a more equitable tax base for the district without placing all the schools in one district.
It was to this bill that Chambers added a two page amendment that divided the schools into racially identifiable districts. Chambers argued it would allow Black educators to control Black schools.
Legalized segregation will only succeed in further stratification of a community that is already separated by school district borders.
Why do suburban parents care if their students are bussed to different schools? Why does Ernie Chambers care about the color of school administrators?
It seems that the real issue at hand is the quality of the schools. Urban schools get less money, perform poorly on standardized tests, and have a higher dropout rate than suburban schools.
Last week, Oprah Winfrey did a two day report on American schools and the inequity between suburban and inner-city schools. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has launched a grassroots operation called Stand Up to improve schools and decrease the dropout rate.
As an educator, this columnist would argue that there are three things our public schools need to become successful and equal.
The first is a nation wide tax base for schools. When public school funding is linked with property taxes, one can expect that school quality will correspond with property value.
This creates a socioeconomic glass ceiling. Students who come from poor and disadvantaged families may want to succeed, but their school receives funding from the poor inner-city community they live in. No student can be expected to perform as well when their teachers receive lower pay, their books are out of date or obsolete, and their elective programs have no equipment.
And it has been shown that 40 years after Brown v. Board of Education, our schools are in some places even more segregated than before.
The second is involved parents. Some students are failing because parents are not involved enough in their education or students are running their own personal revolution against their parents. If parents are unwilling to encourage and motivate their children to learn, or at least put the fear of God into them, students will see education as a chore they are forced to do rather than a tool that will determine their destination in life.
The third is closely linked with the first. All schools need up to date technology integrated in the classroom. There are schools that still function without a computer lab. Of the schools that do have computer labs, some still use Apple II (the ones with the green and black two tone screens that run the lame version of Number Munchers and the word processor crashes every time you try to print).
Some would argue that technology is a luxury. Yet research has shown time and time again that one of the most successful tools in motivating at-risk students is technology integrated in the classroom. All schools should have SMARTboards, projectors, a library of WebQuests, and every student should have a laptop. Every teacher should receive mandatory continuing education in the use of blogs, podcasting, WebQuests, and new, emerging programs and technologies.
If we do these three things as a nation, every school will provide equal education to students, test scores would be comparable, and dropout rates would drop drastically. Then, while there might be grumbling about bussing, there wouldn’t be squabbling. And Ernie Chambers wouldn’t be worried about who was schooling Black children, because everyone would finally receive an equal education.
Ben Bleckley is a senior majoring in English. His column runs every Monday in the Collegian.