Public School

Public School Supporters Take Governor to Task for Divisive, Derisive Beltway Language

LINCOLN —  Nebraska public school supporters are slamming Gov. Pete Ricketts for comments yesterday in which he repeatedly referred to Nebraska’s public schools as “government schools” – a term President Trump used in his State of the Union speech as he criticized what he called “failing government schools.”

“This is Nebraska, not Russia. They are called public schools for a reason,” said Jenni Benson, president of the 28,000-member Nebraska State Education Association. “Nebraska has excellent, fiscally responsible public schools that are accountable to voters. We have local control and local school boards that are elected by local taxpayers. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of children attend our public schools. All children are welcome to attend and be served by our public schools.”

Benson said that as a teacher she knows language matters and that it is “wrong and purposefully misleading” to call Nebraska’s public schools “government schools.”

“Don’t try to take the ‘public’ out of our Nebraska public schools,” said Ann Hunter-Pirtle, executive director of Stand For Schools. “It is disappointing to have a governor who does not support our public schools, who wants to give public tax dollars to private schools instead of funding our public schools.

“Our children deserve a governor who believes in ALL children and families, who supports all schools, public or private,” said Benson.

Benson noted that the governor does not appear to accept that or address the fact that Nebraska ranks 48th in the nation in state aid to education -- and has ranked that low for decades.

“The governor is trying to blame everyone but himself for the state’s continuing heavy reliance on property taxes to fund essential local services, including our public schools,” said Dr. Michael Dulaney, executive director of the Nebraska Council of School Administrators. “Locally elected school boards are good, vigilant watchdogs for taxpayers. They do their very best to provide our communities with good schools and our children with a quality education. And they are accomplishing this with exceedingly tight spending lids and property tax caps. Imposing more restrictions on our school boards is just the governor passing the buck.”

The governor’s remarks came as he endorsed an overly restrictive property tax reform bill, LB974. Under current statutes, school district spending growth is limited to 2.5 percent per year, a figure Ricketts said was too high, even though state spending has been near that figure each of the past six years.

Further, Ricketts claimed “K-12 schools are the biggest spenders,” exposing his lack of understanding of the basic nature of government function. For instance, the Lincoln Public Schools teach 42,000 students every day. That operation is by nature going to be more costly than Lincoln city government, or Lancaster County government, for instance.

“This governor must step away from the derisive and divisive style of national, D.C. Beltway politics. That is not, and never has been, The Nebraska Way.,” said Benson.    

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