Petition to give Nebraska governor more authority over education fails | Regional government

A petition campaign seeking to give the Nebraska governor substantial control over K-12 education failed Thursday.

Michael Connely of York, one of the sponsors, said the effort failed to achieve the necessary signatures to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

The deadline for submitting signatures was Thursday.

Organizers had sought to replace the Nebraska State Board of Education, Commissioner of Education, and Nebraska Department of Education with a new office of education responsible to the governor.

Under the proposal, the governor would have had the power to appoint the director of the office, subject to confirmation by a majority of state senators.

The petition sponsors had argued that the change would make the department more accountable and shift some of the department’s responsibilities to local districts.

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Critics, however, said the petition would have had the opposite effect, eliminating an elected council and concentrating power in the governor’s office.

Patsy Koch Johns, chairwoman of the state board, said she was not surprised the effort fell through.

“I believe Nebraskans know the importance of education and the importance of keeping it bipartisan as much as possible,” Koch Johns said.

Koch Johns said that in states that appoint education officials, education becomes very political.

She said Nebraska’s current structure — an eight-member, nonpartisan council with four seats to be filled every two years — is a more stable system.

Robin Stevens, the vice chairman of the board, said the restructuring plan was a “gut reaction” and not a good concept.

“Once again cooler heads have prevailed,” said Stevens, who is running for re-election.

“The powers of education are best left to the vote of the people, and we’re going to have an election here in November.”

The council sparked controversy last year when it proposed health education standards for Nebraska schools that called for teaching elementary school children about gender identity and sexual orientation.

A rift developed last year between the board and the governor over the proposed standards. A second watered-down draft was also criticized, and the council voted to postpone passage indefinitely.

Connely, who finished fifth in the Republican gubernatorial primary in May, said a family crisis hampered his efforts to organize signature collection in critical counties after the May primary.

He said Nebraska sets the bar high for signings, and complying with the state’s 38-county rule is “like pulling out all your molars.”

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday overturned a lower court’s decision, meaning the state can enforce a requirement that initiative petition campaigns collect valid signatures from at least least 5% of registered voters in 38 counties to vote.

Connelly and Robert Rhodes of Elkhorn drafted and sponsored 10 initiatives, all of which failed.

“There are 10 liberty restoration initiatives that won’t be on the ballot,” Connelly said.

Among those that failed were petitions dealing with the concealed and open carry of firearms, a so-called “stand firm” proposal, and a proposed constitutional amendment to ban vaccines and other medical mandates in the State.

Other proposals sought to repeal motorcycle helmet laws and allow the governor to override any state rule, law or regulation.

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