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Plan for Omaha Schools Raises Segregation Concerns

The Nebraska Legislature voted to divide Omaha's public schools into three racially identifiable districts, prompting the NAACP to file a lawsuit against the state arguing that the law "intentionally furthers racial segregation."

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  • SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent:

    State Senator Ernie Chambers, the only African-American in the Nebraska legislature, has, in effect, tossed a live grenade into his hometown of Omaha.

  • ERNIE CHAMBERS, Nebraska State Senator:

    I lament the existence of segregation right now in the Omaha public schools, and in residences, and in employment.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    The city, and especially its school district, is in an uproar over an amendment he wrote to a state education bill that, critics charge, would re-segregate the Omaha schools.

  • ERNIE CHAMBERS:

    What I'm trying to do, to give some local control to the parents whose children go to these schools.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    Chambers' amendment, now a law that goes into effect in 2008, would divide the Omaha School District into three separate districts based on existing neighborhoods, most of which are segregated. School officials say, no matter how it draws the lines, one district would be predominately white, one black, one Latino.

    For Chambers, a former barber and civil rights leader, the idea is to let minority-led school boards run the schools that educate minority children since, he says, white-run schools have failed to improve black and Latino graduation rates and reduce dropouts nationwide.

  • ERNIE CHAMBERS:

    Omaha is already segregated residentially. The real issue is one of power. We believe that the people whose children attend schools ought to have local control over those schools, a concept very familiar with white people.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    The two-page Chambers amendment was tacked onto an elaborate school reorganization bill, known as LB 1024.

    It got support from rural legislators, who were guaranteed additional school funding for their often tiny school districts. And senators from the mostly white school districts that ring Omaha also voted for it, since it eliminated the power of Omaha to annex some of their schools.

    The new law is making Omaha, here on the banks of the Missouri River, live up to its old Indian name, which means "against the current." Opponents charge that LB 1024 flies in the face of more than 50 years of efforts to desegregate the nation's schools.

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