LINCOLN, Neb. – Strong schools that deliver an excellent education are key to vibrant communities and growing Nebraska. This week, we celebrated some of the best examples of excellence in education by honoring 22 graduating Nebraska students who have achieved a top score of 36 on the ACT college entrance exam. These students hail from communities across the state. Students like these are examples of the success Nebraska students can achieve, and it is important that we help all Nebraska school kids achieve their dreams by expanding educational opportunities and making educational excellence a priority.
This year, I signed two new proposals to help provide a quality education for our children. Senator Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn successfully passed the Nebraska Reading Improvement Act (NRIA), which will help to build a stronger foundation for Nebraska’s schoolchildren. Reading is a fundamental part of a child’s education. Whether you want to start a business, serve in law enforcement, or work as a teacher, you need to be able to read. The earlier one learns to read, the easier it will be to receive an education.
The NRIA aims to improve reading outcomes for Nebraska students. Before third grade, most students should be learning to read. After third grade, students should be reading to learn. NRIA directs schools to measure their students’ reading ability through the third grade and to provide necessary support when students are unable to read at grade level. This will help set our students up for future success.
Another measure I signed expands access to improvement resources for schools. The Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) currently performs accountability testing for every Nebraska public school to help improve student outcomes. Using those test scores, it classifies each school as Excellent, Great, Good, or Needs Improvement. Receiving the “Needs Improvement” designation means a school is falling short in key areas, and needs to do more to help their students achieve the academic performance they need to be college or career ready.
For the past few years, the State Board of Education has been limited to designating up to three schools in the “Needs Improvement” category as priority schools for intervention and additional resources. Each priority school receives help from a Support and Intervention Team that guides improvement efforts and helps schools chart a course to better educational outcomes for their students. With the bill I signed into law, NDE can now designate more than three schools as priority schools. This opens up more opportunities to help more struggling schools achieve better outcomes for their students.
In addition to incentivizing excellence in education, we have also worked to expand educational opportunities. The Developing Youth Talent Initiative, a program we launched in 2015, has created partnerships between schools and the private sector to expose middle school students to great opportunities in manufacturing and information technology. We will be announcing the next round of DYTI partnerships in the near future. There are numerous rewarding and high-paying jobs waiting for Nebraska’s future workforce. The DYTI program empowers young people to pursue skills and careers that are becoming increasingly valuable.
My administration will continue to put a focus on encouraging excellence in education. Last week, U.S. News and World report unveiled the top high schools in the nation in each state. The good news is that Elkhorn South High School received a gold medal for being such an outstanding school. The bad news: Nebraska ranked 50th out of all states and Washington, D.C. for the number of high-performing high schools. We clearly have more work to do to improve educational outcomes and opportunities for Nebraska students, and I will continue to work with the Department of Education and the Legislature to accomplish this.
Great schools in our communities can help grow opportunity for the next generation of Nebraskans. By improving educational outcomes to help create those great schools, we will also help keep Nebraska competitive nationally and internationally. If you have ideas on what else we can do to support improvement and outcomes in our school system, I want to hear them! Please call my office at 402-471-2244 or email me at [email protected]