Today, President Obama will visit Omaha. This will be the President’s first visit to Nebraska since taking office in 2008. He should seize this opportunity to address an education system in Omaha that is failing too many children, and children of color in particular. The President also has an opportunity to address shocking and ongoing disparities in Omaha with regard to unemployment, violence, the juvenile justice system, and over the incarceration of black men. The President’s leadership has the potential to put Omaha on a better path.
Sixteen months before President Obama took office, the Omaha World Herald published an article called “Omaha in Black and White: Poverty Amid Prosperity.” The article addressed troubling disparities based on race. The worst black child poverty rate in the country, was but one example of such disparity. Omaha’s Mayor at the time pledged to address the academic achievement gap. The President of the Chamber of Commerce discussed a development plan for North Omaha, the heart of Omaha’s black community.
There was also reference in the 2007 Omaha World Herald article to new initiatives aimed at alleviating poverty and improving educational outcomes for black and Latino children. Within one year, many of Omaha’s most generous philanthropists launched the Building Bright Futures initiative and, shortly thereafter, the Avenue Scholars Foundation to do just that. A retired Omaha Superintendent served as CEO of both. Within six years, Building Bright Futures shuttered after spending $50 million and showing no significant progress.
During this same time, urban charter schools rapidly expanded around the nation. Children attending urban charter schools, on average, gain an additional 40 days of learning in math and 28 days of learning in reading each year. The benefits for