It's "back to school" time. Whether you are an educator, parent of a school age child or a student yourself, you are keenly aware that summer vacation is about to come to an end. We have made it a priority to invest in Nebraska's young people by strengthening Nebraska's education system and growing educational opportunities.
Additionally, I am pleased to announce that the Department of Education, the Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Nebraska Educational Telecommunications have entered into an agreement to develop a virtual high school. This would provide a rigorous online high school curriculum which will offer important opportunities to rural Nebraska and urban areas alike. Online courses allow students to complete course work on their timetable in the evenings or on weekends. A virtual high school is a way to expand learning beyond the traditional school day and school year.
A virtual high school would allow Nebraska high school students to take courses ranging from basic Spanish classes to advanced placement. In rural Nebraska, it can be difficult to hire foreign language, math and science teachers. A virtual high school would allow rural schools and rural communities the opportunity to survive.
Not all classes can be offered online, but the virtual high school will allow for more advanced placement courses for both rural and urban Nebraska. Students in urban areas could have an opportunity for learning in school computer labs and community computer labs from 3:30 -- 8:30 p.m. instead of being on the streets engaged in drug and gang activities
This cooperative and collaborative effort expands upon the current Educational Service Unit model and will allow for both synchronous and a-synchronous classes. It is being offered as a pilot project for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and will move to accommodate more students in the future.
To help kick off the Nebraska Virtual Partnership, the University of Nebraska is announcing the launch of the NU Virtual Scholars pilot program, which will extend the benefits of high-quality online learning to more students in Nebraska. Through the Virtual Scholars program, the Independent Study High School at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will offer 50 free course enrollments to high schools across Nebraska on a competitive application basis. Additionally, we are focused on reducing truancy and increasing student achievement for K-12 schools.
The bottom line is this -- when you reduce the number of days a student misses school, student achievement improves. The simple fact is if you aren't in school, you can't learn. Last year 21,980 Nebraska students missed more than 20 days of school. 58% of the absences were high school students. Nearly 3400 students in kindergarten through 3rd grade missed more than 20 days of school. 40,643 Nebraska students missed more than 15 days of school. 82,278 students missed more than 10 days of school.
Students who missed more than 20 days of schools scored 30 points less on Nebraska's 11th grade reading assessment. Students who missed more than 10 days scored 17 points less on reading assessment. The vast majority of kids in juvenile detention have a history of truancy. We want to intervene early to help these students. We must begin at the school building level working with parents.
Education is a priority for me and it is an investment that will pay dividends for individuals, families and communities across our state.