LINCOLN—Thurston State Senator Joni Albrecht proposed on Friday to abolish the Nebraska Board of Education and allow voters to participate in a constitutional amendment that would give the governor control over the state Department of Education.
It is at least the sixth time such measures have been proposed since the late 1980s. This year’s proposal would allow governors to hire an education commissioner, who would take over the role currently held by state boards.
If passed by both the legislature and state voters, the new language would essentially obliterate the State Board of Education’s role in setting or directing K-12 education policy. Today, the board sets state academic standards for math, language, science, and social studies.
Albrecht believes Legislative Resolution 24CA is a “conversation starter” for remaining conservative dissatisfaction with the 2021 school board’s efforts to consider new health education standards, including sex education. said. The Board has shelved consideration of the standards following public backlash.
Nebraska and Ohio are the only states without state health education standards.
Albrecht said he believes the state education department would be more responsive to legislators if the state’s employees were under the governor’s authority. Voters elect members of state committees.
“We are the legislature,” said Albrecht. “We lead if they can do what they did… health standards, and it’s ridiculous that it’s gone this far. They should answer us, but they have not answered us.”
The proposed health standards, which should have been voluntary for schools, provided public school guidance on topics such as when and how to address issues faced by LGBTQ students, and some bought the wrath of conservatives.
Conservative lawmakers have been discussing what changes they want in the Department of Education. Some want the governor to appoint a board. Some people want the board to be discarded. Some want to cut the budget of the Ministry of Education.
The department did not immediately comment on Albrecht’s proposal on Friday.
School Commissioner Matt Blomstedt, who resigned earlier this month, testified against a similar proposal in 2021 sponsored by Omaha Senator Lou Ann Linehan. The board is in the process of hiring a new commissioner.
Blomstedt said dividing powers between an elected board and a commissioner hired by the board is “more stable” than relying on the governor to appoint a commissioner or board. said.
“The entire state board is designed to provide the voice of the citizen in the agency’s work,” Blomstedt testified. “The board hires a commissioner (me) to evaluate and enable a regional and statewide perspective on the complexities of the state’s educational institutions.”
Linehan testified last year that most Nebraskans don’t know who they represent on the state board and know how to contact the governor if problems arise with the state’s proposal.
She said on Friday that most states keep their education departments under the control of governors, and there’s no reason Nebraska shouldn’t do the same.
Kirk Penner of Aurora, who was elected to the board in November after being appointed by former Gov. Pete Ricketts in December 2021, said he was on the move and needed time to consider the proposal. I was.
“There are various ways states appoint or elect state boards of education and their commissioners,” he said. “Hybrid His approach is used by many.
Deb Neary, a Democrat who won the most controversial election at the Board of Governors in November, said: Whenever you do,” he said, people should pay attention.
She said Nebraska’s unique educational structure allows for a strong education system. She said a board system with members elected to represent different parts of the state helps address the challenges that students face regardless of where or how they live. rice field.
“Our state’s size presents a unique challenge that requires elected representatives from all parts of the state to ensure the success of all young students,” she said. rice field.
Neary’s campaign was at the center of a public backlash against the board after each candidate raised six-figure funding in last year’s election. Neary faced criticism from her conservative Marni Hodgen for her public statements and emails about the proposed standards.
Neary says he did not write the standards or vote to approve them, but sent an email expressing disappointment that the new standards, if adopted, would be voluntary. She says she makes no apologies for wanting to treat all students with respect.
Hodgen said he supported the standard more than Neary professed.
Karen Kilgarin, spokeswoman for the Nebraska State Education Association, said the teachers’ union supports the elected board. She said nonpartisan elections help protect the school from partisan politics and allow board members to act independently.
“The electoral process is more democratic and encourages citizens to take greater interest in schools,” she said, adding that board members ultimately build on the expertise the governor lacks.
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