State Sen. Lynne Walz’s three children all went to school at Archbishop Bergan. As a new member of the education committee, she’s also a supporter of public education and an opponent of school voucher programs.
“One of the reasons that we chose to send my daughter there was the faith piece of that school,” Walz said.
Walz, the democratic representative of Dodge County’s District 15, has two sons, Patrick and Adam, who graduated from Bergan. Her youngest, Emma, is 16 and attending Bergan High School.
“I would not be in favor of any public funds going to a private school, a parochial school, because I think doing that will change the atmosphere of that school someday,” Walz said. “They’re going to require that if they’re using public funds, then you’re not going to teach the faith, and I’m totally opposed to that.”
For six years, Walz was a full-time fourth and fifth-grade teacher at Fremont Public Schools at Bell Field and Northside Elementary, which closed. She studied education at Midland University because she has a passion for education.
“I have a passion for helping people in general,” Walz said.
She also was a long-term substitute teacher for about four years at Bergan Elementary before going into real estate to get a more flexible schedule after the birth of her youngest.
When speaking against sending public money to private schools, Walz was speaking against a bill introduced by fellow rookie Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn. Legislative Bill 608, a school voucher program, was not prioritized and will not see any progress this session, but it likely is something Linehan will look to move further in a year.
The bill would allow students living in attendance zones with a score of “needs improvement” to opt-in to a voucher program. Three quarters of the per-student cost at the public school could instead be used to send the student to a private school.
In Fremont Public Schools, two schools are categorized as “needs improvement,” the lowest category, according to AQuESTT, the Nebraska Department of Education’s accountability system: Bell Field and Howard Elementary. If the school voucher bill were in place, students living in these zones could receive a voucher to attend Bergan. Johnson Crossing, Fremont Middle School and Fremont High School are not categorized as “needs improvement,” but under the bill the students who started at Bergan would be allowed to stay.
Walz is against another Linehan bill that would require the retention of third-graders who do not pass reading assessment or otherwise receive special permission to advance.
“I don’t think that mandating schools to retain kids in third grade because they didn’t pass one test is really the way that we should be determining whether or not they should move on,” Walz said.
The bill, LB 651, is a priority bill and looks much more likely to pass. The legislature pulled the bill out of committee in a 30-13 vote.
“First of all, not all kids know English,” Walz said. “That’s a big factor in Fremont. Kids might come from poverty, kids might come from broken homes. There are so many factors that go into where a child is at during that reading learning time.”
Walz said technology is a new factor in teaching reading that needs to be looked at.
“It’s real important that kids are able to put the pen to the paper and write the word, see the word, and feel the word when they’re trying to read,” Walz said. “Technology …, as important as it is, really takes that away.”
Instead of holding back students who can’t read, Walz said “you really have to meet the child where they’re at.”
“I think retaining a kid is only going to … make it worse for that child later on,” Walz said. “What we really need to concentrate on is putting supports in for those kids and enabling them to pass the test to progress in reading.”
Walz said her experience as a teacher adds to the education committee.
“Being a teacher, I can tell you that we are already daily looking at how they’re progressing,” Walz said. “Every single day, we’re testing them. Maybe not a paper test, but we’re listening to them read, and we are measuring their progress every single day.”
If there is a reading problem, Walz said it is not the fault of the education system.
“The teachers that I know … work really hard at trying to get kids to learn,” Walz said. “Our goal is to make sure kids can read. We don’t go into teaching and not want them to learn something.”
In addition to vouchers, Walz is against charter schools.
“I’m absolutely opposed to taking away public funds and giving them to a small group of kids,” Walz said. “That school, charter school, is not accountable to taxpayers or to the public for what they are doing.”
Like the school voucher bill, the charter school bill is not prioritized and will not likely leave committee, but it has been debated unofficially on the floor.
“If you have the secret to making sure that kids are succeeding, then share it,” Walz said, “so all kids have that secret – so all teachers have that secret. If you really love kids, share that secret.”
Walz introduced an education bill that was amended into an education omnibus bill that passed Friday. Her portion of the bill expands on the Summer Food Service Program. Equipment funds for the program will no longer be prorated, and it will cover the entire cost of equipment.
“My bill really changed that language and allowed people to use whatever they needed to buy (for example) the refrigerator,” Walz said.
While Nebraska faces budget issues, Walz is also a part of debates on cutting teacher retirement and higher education funding. The new budget includes $13 million in cuts to the University of Nebraska. LB 415 would raise the retirement age to 60 from 55.
“It’s difficult to balance that right now,” Walz said. “We have so many issues. We have property tax relief for farmers that we have to deal with. I do think that our state needs to fund our TEEOSA (Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act) plan more than what they have in the past.
“I think they do need to put education as a priority right now, because if we don’t we’re going to be paying for it down the road.”