Neb. sees trend toward Anglo vs.
Feb. 19, 2005
LINCOLN, Neb. - Dick Eisenhauer is tired of watching White families take their
children out of the schools in his Nebraska district and enroll them in smaller,
outlying ones where there are few poor or Hispanic students.
Like many of Nebraska's school systems, the Lexington district where Eisenhauer
is superintendent has seen an influx of Hispanics, largely because of jobs at
the meatpacking plants, and an accompanying exodus of White students to public
elementary schools just outside of town.
And there is nothing Eisenhauer can do about it. Nebraska law allows students to
switch schools without giving a reason.
"It bothers you when people come into your town and make comments like 'You've
got lots of Mexican kids,' " Eisenhauer said. "I feel distressed if they would
opt out for that reason."
The situation in Lexington and
elsewhere in Nebraska has caught the attention of the state Legislature, which
is considering a bill to thwart what some say amounts to legal segregation in
The proposal would force the outlying elementary-only schools to merge with
larger K-12 districts. That could mean the closing of the smaller schools.
Beginning in the 1960s, White flight to the suburbs left many big-city school
systems across the country predominantly Black. But what is happening in
Nebraska is a different phenomenon: The White families are staying put; they are
just sending their kids to school outside town.
This is possible because Nebraska, unlike many other states and communities,
does not require students to attend the schools in the district in which they
As a result, in Lexington, the in-town schools, with an enrollment of 2,500,
have 804 students learning English as a second language, and 1,172 who are
getting a free or reduced-price lunch. The six outlying elementary schools have
about 130 students, none of them English learners, none of them living in
poverty, according to the state Education Department.
The situation is similar in and around the small town of Schuyler, which also
has seen an influx of Hispanics in recent years. There are 250 students there
who are learning to speak English; none attends the outlying schools. Of 325
students living in poverty, all but 18 go to school in town.
At the same time, spending per student in the outlying schools is as much as
twice as high as spending in the Schuyler grade schools. All public schools in
Nebraska are primarily funded with local property taxes and state aid, which is
based in part on enrollment.
Cecilia Huerta, director of the state's Mexican-American Commission, said other
Nebraska communities with large numbers of Hispanics are likely to have the same
"People in Lexington and Schuyler do not want their kids being polluted by Latin
Americans and Hispanics," Huerta said. "They think they're not going to get the
quality of education if they have a diverse classroom."
Many Hispanics are not aware of what is happening, but if they did "they would
be up in arms," said Sen. Ray Aguilar, the Legislature's only Hispanic.
Chris Dvorak, a White parent who has two children who attend a school outside
Schuyler, said she sent her children there to avoid overcrowding in town, not to
get away from Hispanics. "I would have done the same thing if they were all
White kids," Dvorak said.
There are 45 students enrolled at Dvorak's children's school, compared with more
than 850 at Schuyler Grade School.
State Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler pointed out that anyone can attend the
outlying schools. "It's not an elite group that gets to option," he said.
But Aguilar said Hispanic students do not go to the schools outside of town
because in many Hispanic households, both parents work and do not have cars to
take their children to class.
Rosa Valerio, a Hispanic mother whose two children attend school in Schuyler,
said she never considered sending them to schools outside town because they are
too far away.
Some senators are afraid the state will face legal challenges if the Legislature
does not stop the trend toward separate White and Hispanic schools.
"It is unconscionable," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Ron Raikes.