OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ Superintendents in the Omaha area are studying the effectiveness of the Learning Community and have released a draft of their first joint report.

In 2007, the Legislature created the Learning Community, comprised of 11 school districts, to improve academic achievement among economically disadvantaged students and increase diversity in Omaha area schools.

The report called “Learning Community: Time for Change?” said an open-enrollment student transfer system is more costly than before and hasn’t done much to improve socio-economic diversity in schools. It also questions whether school districts alone can bring about the blending of poor and more affluent students, suggesting that state lawmakers consider other ways to combat poverty, such as city housing policies and jobs programs.

However, the report also notes strong support from school officials to expand early childhood education for students from low-income families. It said the partnership involving the Learning Community, districts and the Buffett Early Education Institute is a great example of “coming together to take on a tough opponent: the learning of children in poverty.”

The draft doesn’t include concrete recommendations from superintendents, which officials said will be a part of the final report given to the Nebraska legislature this winter, the Omaha World-Herald reported (Superintendents back Learning Community’s early childhood ed efforts but fault common levy).

“The recommendations will be the real meat of this,” said Elkhorn Superintendent Steve Baker, noting the report’s goal is to make the Learning Community better, not to “blow it up.”

The report states that the common property tax levy is a barrier to improving the collaboration between the Learning Community and school districts.

The levy system has caused “stifling” revenue losses for two districts, according to the report. Most of the school districts got less funding under the levy system than they would have without it, while others like the Omaha Public School District directly benefited from it. The district received about $1.6 million from the levy system.

“As long as the levy system creates `winners and losers’ at least in the perceptions (of) LC school district residents, and as long as the state does not fully contribute to the required LC efforts, then there will remain a tension between the Learning Community, member school districts and member school district superintendents,” the report says.


Information from: Omaha World-Herald,