Nebraska conservatives set their sights on taking over education
LINCOLN, Nebraska (AP) — Nebraska will use taxpayer money to fund vouchers for private schools, make it easier to withdraw books from school libraries, target transgender students, and give the state’s newly elected conservative governor more control over education policy in line with bills. considered by the Legislature.
Other states have taken similar steps, but Nebraska’s efforts are massive and could forever change the foundations of education in the state’s 244 school districts.
Governor Jim Pillen touted an overhaul of the state’s education system as one of his top priorities, often saying, “Nebraska will never give up a child.”
“Our highest priority is to protect our children and their youthful minds until they are old enough to discern and make their own decisions,” he said in a recent opinion column.
However, UCLA education professor John Rogers, who spoke with several Nebraska school principals for a November report examining political conflicts and their role in public education across the country, said educators are struggling under the weight of so many suggestions.
“Nebraska principals spoke eloquently about how political attacks in their local communities make it difficult to support informed classroom dialogue, educate youth about the full history of the United States, and protect the welfare of LGBTQ students,” said Rogers, director of the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access. Los Angeles. “This atmosphere of conflict, directors suggested, also increased stress among students and staff and led some teachers to consider leaving the profession.”
In addition to making policy changes, Nebraska’s conservatives want to give the governor more control over the agencies that govern K-12 education in the state. This includes shifting the choice of the Nebraska Education Commissioner and currently elected State Board of Education members to governorship in a state that has not elected a Democrat as governor since 1994.
The move is reminiscent of Florida, where a constitutional change 20 years ago gave the governor the power to appoint the state commissioner of education and board of education.
Other Republican-led states have seen similar pushes, including Ohio, where a bill that would transfer oversight of K-12 education to a Republican governor appears to have received broad support in this session after dying last year.
In Arkansas, Republicans proposed a bill requiring partisan elections for local school boards, which has been the focus of conservative political groups and Republicans considering running for the White House.
In Nebraska, the effort began with a bitter fight during the opening days of the legislature over committee assignments. This power struggle saw Democratic MP Omaha Senator Jen Day launch the Committee on Education, and the Committee’s previous Democratic chairman, former schoolteacher Senator Lynn Walz of Fremont, was ousted in favor of Conservative Senator Dave. Murman, a farmer from the countryside. Glenville.
That gives Moorman more power to move conservative-backed legislation outside the committee, raising his chances of passage in the officially non-partisan Republican-dominated unicameral Legislature.
Conservative lawmakers said the committee changes would improve the chances of approval of the governor’s proposed education funding reform, but Democrats believe things go even further.
“What we’re seeing in this session is our usual politics and traditional operation being thrown out the window in an attempt to push through these culture war bills,” Day said.
The list of bills supported by Nebraska conservatives reflects proposals put forward by Republicans in Washington and in legislatures across the country that focus on schools and LGBT students. These include bills to use tax revenue for a private school voucher program, ban gender-affirming therapy for those aged 18 and under, and require transgender people to use school toilets and locker rooms of the gender on their original birth certificate. The governor supported all these bills.
“We are already seeing what is happening in other states where such measures have been pushed through,” said Jacob Carmichael, 23, of Bennington, who has spoken out against conservative education and anti-LGBTQ measures in this session. “In Florida, the shelves with school textbooks are empty. The AP African American Studies course was rewritten. It’s a dangerous, dangerous path.”
As a gay man, Carmichael said he was offended by the Republican Party’s desire to target members of the LGBT community, especially children. The bills, he said, “make queer people inherently unacceptable.”
One of Moorman’s proposals would be the passage of a parental rights bill that would make it easier to clear school libraries of books, magazines and other content that parents deem inappropriate and give them more room to object to certain vaccinations.
Kelly Kenny, president of the Nebraska School Libraries Association, said schools already have policies and processes in place to review material that parents find objectionable, and Moorman’s bill could “impose censorship restrictions.”
“Parents and guardians have always had the right to decide what their own child can access through the school library, but they should not be able to arbitrarily make that decision for other people’s children,” Kenny said in a written response to questions about the bill. “It would be wrong to allow the tactics of intimidation of a few active members of the community to restrict access to ideas and information for all of our students.”
A group of parents who testified before the Education Committee in support of the bill expressed concerns that children would be indoctrinated or subjected to age-inappropriate sex education in public schools. Some members of the committee sprinkled committee members with obscene and sexual language that they said were found in Nebraska school libraries. Others were in tears: one woman lamented not being consulted when her child’s school started using her 15-year-old’s favorite name and pronouns, finding it instead at a school performance where her child was introduced using her preferred name.
Moorman’s bill also tacitly targets so-called critical race theory, following Florida’s “Stop the Awakening” law. Although it never uses the phrase “critical racial theory”, Moorman’s bill bans instructions that claim that members of one ethnic group are inherently racist and should feel guilty about past actions committed by others.
Critical race theory is based on the idea that racism is systemic in US schools and is usually taught at the university graduate level.
“I was forced to introduce this bill because of parental concerns about what is being taught in our schools,” Moorman said at a recent hearing.
Another Moorman bill would allow teachers to use physical contact and restrain rebellious students without fear of prosecution. Critics say this use of physical force has historically been disproportionately used against minority and disabled students.
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