No one showed up at public hearings Tuesday to support legislative proposals that would give Nebraska’s Republican governor more control over the state’s K-12 policies, while many people testified against the measures, with most citing a fear of politicizing basic education protocols.
Conservative lawmakers have introduced three proposed constitutional amendments that would put the question to voters in next year’s general election.
A proposed amendment floated by Omaha Sen. Lou Ann Linehan would have the governor appoint the Nebraska education commissioner, who is currently selected by eight members of the Nebraska Board of Education. Another by Linehan would see the governor appoint all members of state Education Board — who are currently elected by the people.
The effort appears to be a partisan power move in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat as governor since 1994.
The third proposal, by Sen. Joni Albrecht, of Thurston, would disband the state Education Board altogether.
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Albrecht cited her disapproval of a state Education Department’s health standards plan in 2021 that would have included gender identity lessons in public school curriculum. The plan was largely scrapped after an uproar from conservatives who argued that the topics weren’t appropriate for children.
“It created a crisis of confidence in the state Board of Education,” Albrecht said Tuesday at the hearing.
While supporters were a no-show, a succession of people testified against the measures. Most cited a fear of politicizing education policy, including new state Board of Education member Elizabeth Tegtmeier, a conservative who was elected in November on that wave of outrage over sex education standards.
“Removing the voice of the voter is not in the best interests of Nebraskans,” she said.
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The president of the state board, Patti Gubbels, also testified against the measures, saying they “would put education policymaking into partisan hands.”
The president of state’s largest teachers union also voiced opposition, saying the state Board of Education “is probably the least partisan” elected body in Nebraska.
“It would erase the right of Nebraska citizens to have a direct link to education policy development by moving education policy directly into the hands of one person: the governor,” Nebraska State Education Association President Jenni Benson said. “Nebraskans do not want less direct citizen-based control of education policy.”
The Nebraska proposals echo actions in other Republican-controlled states to grab the reins of public education.
In Florida, a constitutional change 20 years ago gave the governor the power to appoint that state’s education commissioner and board of education. That state is now the epicenter of a national debate on education after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis led efforts to ban instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and signed the “Stop WOKE” act that restricted teaching that members of one race are inherently racist or should feel guilt about past actions by other people of the same race, among other things.
Similar restrictions modeled on those Florida laws have been introduced this year in Nebraska.