Missing Native American Women, School Choice Discussed

Jan. 24, 2019, 5:43 p.m. ·

School choice supporters rally in Capitol Rotunda (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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A proposal for the State Patrol to study the problem of missing Native American women got a public hearing Thursday, and advocates of school choice rallied at the Capitol.

Thursday afternoon, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on Sen. Tom Brewer’s proposal to have the State Patrol study how to do a better job of investigating the problem of missing Native American women in Nebraska. Brewer, himself a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, described his aim. “The bill attempts to answer a very serious question: Why do Native American women turn up missing in numbers far more than the national average for every other demographic?” he said.

Brewer suggested a lot of it has to do with jurisdictional issues. “Many times the tribal police and the Bureau of Indian Affairs do not communicate. The local county law enforcement agencies either do not or have not coordinated. The State Patrol and federal agencies tend to be pillars that are separate also,” he said. That failure to communicate has left “a no man’s land where people can fall through the cracks, and there’s not a way to track the numbers and have the accountability that we need,” he added.

The problem extends to other areas as well. One study found Native American women in some communities are 10 times more likely than the general population to be murdered. Supporting the bill, Chandra Mechelle Walker, chair of the native caucus of the Nebraska Democratic Party, spoke of the incidence of violence. “One out of three women experience some type of violence against them, but for Native American women it’s four out of five. For a long time I thought that was a norm. I’m a survivor of rape and domestic violence and I get stalked and harassed, and I thought that was a norm until I realized it wasn’t a norm,” Walker said.

The bill would require the State Patrol to coordinate with tribes, the federal government and others, and report back to the Legislature by June of next year. Brewer said he’ll offer an amendment that would extend the study to include children. No one testified against the proposal.

Thursday morning, as part of national school choice week, advocates gathered at the Capitol supporting state tax credits for scholarships to private and religious schools. April Garcia, a parent of a child at Christ Lincoln Schools, said her daughter struggled in a public school that had one teacher for every 24 children, but is thriving in a school where there’s a teacher for every 12 children. “It’s unfortunate that more families do not have the ability and opportunity to place their child in a school of their choosing purely due to financial burdens. I pray that the state of Nebraska will consider a true choice option for all families that fits their child’s needs, regardless of income,” she said.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan has introduced legislation that would give donors a dollar-for-dollar credit against their income taxes for contributions to a scholarship fund to help students go to private or religious schools. The credit would start at $10 million a year. Linehan said it’s for a worthwhile cause. “It’s an investment in our kids and our state’s future. It will not harm public schools. I am a huge public school supporter. I am a supporter of all education opportunities for young people,” she said.

Last year, public school organizations opposed a similar bill, arguing it could divert resources from public schools, which are required to accept all students, to private schools, which are not. But Linehan said similar legislation in other states has actually saved those states money.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, on hand to lend his support, said the bill was one way to improve education. Ricketts also mentioned another – an “A” through “F” grading system. “We should allow parents and kids to know about how their schools are doing. So an ‘A’ through ‘F’ grading system would be one of the ways we could help make sure parents were educated about the quality of their schools,” Ricketts said.

Currently, Nebraska schools are ranked as “excellent,” “great,” “good,” or “needs improvement.” Ricketts said an “A through F” system would be better. “Everybody understands what an A through F grading system is like. Whereas that one (now used by the state) doesn’t really have a standard across the state. We aren’t using that with our students in every school system,” he said. “That’s why I think an A through F, which everybody really understands and kind of intuitively gets, would be a better system with which to help parents understand how their schools are doing.”

A date for the hearing on Linehan’s bill has not yet been set.