We Are All Political

by NSEA President Jenni Benson

As a child, I never dreamed I would be considered “political.”

Yet here I am, working for students and educators from an office directly across the street from the Nebraska State Capitol, while that iconic building is in full legislative/political mode. I can see senators and power brokers as they enter and depart from the building’s west entrance. I can watch as rallies and protests are staged on the steps in front of the west entrance.

Occasionally, I look out my office window and reflect on the road that brought me to this point, reviewing the travels and stops along the way that delivered me to this “political” life.

It’s been 25 years since my family returned to Nebraska after a detour to Texas for several years. My brother’s wife had passed away, and he was left with three young children in his care. He needed help, so we found a big house on an acreage in the Malcolm school district, and we shared our home with my brother’s family. Together we had six children, ages two through 10. I took a teaching job in Lincoln.

Bond Issue at Malcolm

The Malcolm school bus came by and took five of the children to school each day. Meanwhile, the school district needed a new high school. They knew I was a big supporter of public schools and they soon came looking for volunteers. Thus started my involvement on my first school bond issue.

I joined the bond issue campaign because I knew the new building would provide better outcomes for kids and families in the Malcolm district. One thing led to another and I began to participate in the Lincoln Education Association’s school board and legislative contact teams.  I started as a building representative and then was elected to the LEA Board of Directors. With each position I learned more and more about the how and why of advocating for public schools.

I have taught Special Education for more than 30 years. As you know, there are a lot of rules, regulations and mandates when serving children with special needs. Until I started my Association work

I didn’t really think too much about the whys of all those requirements. Knowledge and experience opened my eyes to the value of Association involvement, and my Association work was spurred further by the testing requirements attached to the reauthorization of “No Child Left Behind.” There was a need to make those regulations reasonable as they pertained to children who received special education services, and I added my voice to the discussion.

A Huge Task

Over the years, I have interviewed candidates and lobbied elected officials, written letters on education topics, made phone calls and knocked on doors to promote candidates and issues.
With each step, phone call, knock and letter, my focus has been for the education of ALL children, the well-being of ALL children and for the betterment of the working and learning conditions in our public schools.

That focus is true of your NSEA staff, as well. Our dedicated Association staff watches the Legislature and the State Board of Education, among other political bodies, closely. A group representing staff, management and governance we call the Government Relations Team meets regularly to review issues and legislation. Members of that team have read more than 150 new legislative proposals dealing with education, and continually monitor the nearly 300 education-related bills now active in the Legislature. It is a huge task, but we are up for it.

Add Your Voice

One state senator told me recently that he could not fathom why so few educators are politically active. He knew that political decisions made at the school board level and at the state level affect nearly every aspect of a teacher’s school day. Thus, if teachers – the experts in the field – do not speak up for our students and our profession, someone else will make those decisions based on inadequate information and input.

I am honored to represent members as your Association president. I am proud of the work you do and continually amazed by the wonderful teaching I see as I cross the state and visit classrooms.
I would ask that you please consider adding your voice to the chorus of members who help our elected representatives better understand the needs and accomplishments of our public schools.