A proposed constitutional amendment to allow voters to abolish the Nebraska Board of Education and turn control over to the governor is a bad idea. Period.
Senator John Murante of Gretna, who just happens to be running for higher office, said the eight-member board is out of touch with the state and has lost its way. His resolution (LR285CA) would allow a vote of the people on eliminating the board and turning control over to a commissioner of education who would be appointed by the governor. Read that: political appointee.
The current Board is elected by voters in eight statewide regions. A vote of the people. Public input. There are six women, each of whom is a former teacher or school administrator, and two men, one of whom was a local school board member and the other a banker. Two commissioners are from Omaha, one from Lincoln. The others are from Beatrice, Chapman, North Platte, Oakland and Papillion. I’d say that’s statewide representation. The board hires the commissioner. The current commissioner is a Nebraska native who grew up in southwest Nebraska.
Murante said doing away with the state board and giving control to the Governor to hire a commissioner and run the department like a business is a better option. Nope. That would put education out of touch for the people who have kids in public schools. I’m sure things would run a lot smoother if we didn’t have a bunch of educators trying to make the statewide school system better.
The senator said the current board opposes school choice and strengthening the Americanism statutes. He also criticized the board for embracing the Common Core Standards. The only problem is, senator, Nebraska is one of the few states that did not adopt the voluntary standards and has been working with Nebraska colleges and universities on standards to prepare students for college and career.
Education Committee Chairman Senator Mike Groene of North Platte has criticized the board’s proposed civic readiness standard for using politically charged language and not following the existing Americanism statutes. Remember, those statutes harken back to the (Sen. Joseph) McCarthy Era (1947-1956), which featured political repression and the fear of Communist influence.
The state education board delayed a vote on the civic readiness standard to work with Groene to modify it and Board President John Witzel said a final decision on the issue is a long way off. The statewide board is going to great lengths to get stakeholder input. That would be from parents and teachers and, hopefully, students. I like that idea better than leaving matters to the Governor, his appointed commissioner and a handful of state senators.
Parents tend to vote for local school board members based on who they feel will best represent their interests. Likewise, they use the same criteria in voting for members of the state board. That’s local control and Nebraskans have a long history of fighting for that. I am sure that Senators Groene and Murante have campaigned on local control issues. Witzel said issues vary from west to east and voters select those who recognize that.
The executive director of public school advocacy group Stand for Schools, said giving control to the governor is a terrible idea. Ann Hunter Pirtle told the Lincoln Journal Star local control is important to education and losing that would give stakeholders less input into their kids’ education.
Americans for Prosperity-Nebraska, a political action group credited with the conservative Tea Party movement, supports the resolution because it would allow teachers greater autonomy in the classroom. Look up autonomy. Freedom from external control. Which external control? The elected local school board and administrators using guidelines provided by the elected state education board? Or the governor and his politically appointed commissioner?
Politics or public input. You decide. I think the answer is clear. Public schools need public input and a state board of education.
J.L. Schmidt is the statehouse correspondent for the Nebraska Press Association. He has been covering Nebraska government and politics since 1979. He has been a registered Independent for 19 years.