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    Petition to give Nebraska governor more authority over education fails | Politics

    A petition drive that sought to give the Nebraska governor substantial oversight of K-12 education failed Thursday.

    Michael Connely of York, one of the sponsors, said the effort fell short of the signatures needed to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

    The deadline for submitting signatures was Thursday.

    The organizers had sought to replace the Nebraska State Board of Education, education commissioner and Nebraska Department of Education with a new Office of Education accountable to the governor.

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

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

    Critics, however, said the petition would have had the opposite effect, eliminating an elected board and concentrating power in the Governor’s Office.

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    Patsy Koch Johns, state board president, said she’s not surprised the effort failed.

    “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 leaders, education becomes very political.

    She said Nebraska’s current structure — an eight-member, nonpartisan board with four seats up for election every two years — is a more stable system.

    Robin Stevens, the board vice president, said the restructuring plan was a “knee-jerk reaction” and not a good concept.

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

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

    The board ignited controversy last year when it proposed health-education standards for Nebraska schools that called for teaching elementary-school kids about gender identity and sexual orientation.

    A rift grew last year between the board and the governor over the proposed standards. A watered-down second draft was criticized as well, and the board voted to indefinitely postpone adoption.

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

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

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

    Connely and Robert Rhodes of Elkhorn authored and sponsored 10 initiatives, all of which failed.

    “There are 10 freedom-restoring initiatives that will not be on the ballot,” Connely said.

    Among those failing were petitions dealing with concealed and open carry of firearms, a so-called “stand your ground” proposal and a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit vaccine and other medical mandates in the state.

    Other proposals sought to repeal motorcycle helmet laws and allow the governor to override any state rules, laws or regulations.

    joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077

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