No More Lids on Kids!

Ricketts’ Lid Plan Draws Immediate and Broad Opposition

The response to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ call to further squeeze funding sources for Nebraska public schools was quick and sure.

The alarm was sounded by newspaper editorial writers, in letters to the editor and by community columnists, among others.

The student representative on the Grand Island Board of Education, Kendall Bartling, spoke out in a long letter to his hometown newspaper, the Grand Island Independent.

Omaha North High Magnet School English teacher Mark Gudgel wrote that in light of the pandemic, he was “dumbfounded” that Ricketts chose this time to “openly declare war on public schools.”

Newspapers across the state, including the Lincoln Journal Star and the Omaha World-Herald also supported the idea of the state shouldering more of the burden.

Ricketts announced just before Christmas that his goal in 2021 is to further cut funding for schools, and that plan is ensconced in Legislative Resolution 22 CA. If passed by the Legislature, the plan would go before voters in November 2022 as a proposed amendment to the state Constitution. Once in the Constitution, it would be incredibly difficult to alter or overturn (see page 9 for more details).

NSEA President Jenni Benson applauded the immediate response by the state’s public education community.

“It’s a new year, and we must rally once again and work to make clear to lawmakers that the best way to provide instant property tax relief is to provide more state aid to public education,” Benson said.

A Teacher’s Perspective

Gudgel, a 17-year English teacher and a candidate for Omaha mayor, wrote an opinion blasting Ricketts for threatening further upset at an already uncertain point in time for public schools.

“Few occurrences in history have more emphatically punctuated the value of public schools than the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gudgel wrote. “In many ways 2020 confirmed for all what some already knew, namely that schools aren’t just a place for gaining knowledge about the world. Schools are also where many young people go for much-needed support, for food, to improve their mental and physical health, to make friends and maintain relationships, and so much more. In short, schools are perhaps the single most critical part of the infrastructure of our society.”

Gudgel led with the idea that teachers are “the glue that binds society,” noting that teachers have a hand in forming parents, productive citizens and careers.

“Without us, there are no plumbers, no chemists, no chefs, no electricians, no doctors, no lawyers, no teachers and no nurses. If we stop doing this job, Atlas will shrug, society will shatter, and all that we hold dear will cease to be,” Gudgel wrote.

Shutting down schools last spring quickly showed their impact on the economy—parents had to stay home from work to care for their children, which meant no workforce. Businesses closed and people lost their jobs.

“If there was ever any doubt that public schools are a singularly important institution in American society, 2020 surely laid that doubt to rest,” he wrote. “With all of this in mind, I am dumbfounded that Gov. Ricketts, whose mismanagement of the pandemic has put Nebraska in a worse position than most states, has decided that 2021 is the year in which he will openly declare war on public schools.”

Nebraska already ranks 48th in state aid to public schools, and any further lids on spending will only cause more damage to the already uncertain futures of students.

“As we transition into 2021, we must remember that any attack on our public schools is an attack upon the children, and the society, which are dependent upon them,” Gudgel wrote.

Gudgel called on parents, teachers, administrators and students to contact their senator and the governor to oppose LR22CA.

A Student’s Stance

Bartling’s opinion was published shortly after Ricketts announced his plan.

“This comes in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, one that has stretched school resources to their limits, staff members past the edge and students into never before seen emotional and educational issues. Yet, Gov. Ricketts thinks spending limits are appropriate,” Bartling wrote.

“The simplest argument against such an overreach was best echoed by Sen. Adam Morfeld in a tweet: ‘We already have spending limits on schools — it’s called the local school board.’

“Gov. Ricketts has a track record of being anti-public schools. ...Nebraskans realize the benefit that strong, well-funded public education brings to our state — bright minds, bright futures. There is no real reason, save for crippling the public school system in the state of Nebraska, to enforce spending limits.”