Since the Christian Right became a major player in the GOP coalition in 1980, the Republicans have sought to defund the public schools and use taxpayer dollars to finance corporate, private and religiously based schools. We’ve seen a welter of proposals on both the federal and state levels for charter schools, tax breaks for religious schools and tuition vouchers.
Governor Pete Ricketts and the Nebraska Republican Party have been part of this movement to use taxpayer dollars to fund private schools. Fortunately, due to Nebraska’s unique unicameral legislature, these efforts have largely been thwarted. Nevertheless, Ricketts and the radical right never take a day off and an assault on the public schools is at the centerpiece of their agenda.
Ricketts has already laid out his agenda for the new session. He would like even more property tax cuts and would like to spend $230 million on a new prison. What’s more, Ricketts has indicated he wants to pay for this extreme agenda by cutting spending on education.
In his fifth annual State of the State address, the billionaire governor outlined a proposed constitutional amendment to limit local schools and other property taxing bodies to increasing property tax revenue by no more than 3 percent a year.
Already, there is vigorous opposition to any cuts in education. Stand for Schools — a non profit working to support public education in Nebraska — tweeted: “Public schools already work under levy limits and spending limits. Ricketts is making the case property taxes are too high because of school spending — which is totally false. They are high because of decades of underinvestment by the state. According to the state’s own funding formula, public schools have only been fully funded in 4 of the last 17 years. Nebraska schools don’t have a spending problem; the state has a funding problem. A tired excuse by Ricketts & friends to continue underfunding public education.”
One of the tax cuts that Ricketts and his crickets would like to finance by defunding the public schools is a nonrefundable state income tax credit for donations to fund private school scholarships, which couldn’t exceed 50% of the individual or corporate taxpayer’s income tax liability.
Jack Moles, executive director of the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association, described this extreme proposal as follows: “Reducing potential state funds when more funding is needed, not less. Private schools have a role in our state, but not state funding.”
Dr. Shavonna Holman, president of the Omaha Public Schools Board of Education, testified at a hearing on the bill that the diversion of $10 million in state revenue amounted to “using public taxpayer dollars for private education.”
If conservatives want their kids to attend corporate/private schools, they need to fund it themselves without a government handout. Get a second job. Have a bake sale. Like they do for public schools.
Ricketts not only wants to gut our public schools, he even went out of his way to insult them by not recognizing “I Love Public Schools Day” last week. This is normally just a routine proclamation that every previous governor has signed without any fuss or complaints. The billionaire governor refused to sign the proclamation contending that: “Typically our proclamations on education focus on educational excellence and choice.”
The former T.D. Ameritrade executive was blasted by the teachers union over his gratuitous insult. In an opinion column, Jenni Benson, president of the Nebraska State Education Association, called the governor’s comments “offensive and wrong-headed.” Benson said Ricketts’ remarks were “hurtful” to the thousands of students, teachers and other Nebraskans working in public schools and “demeaning, coming from an official who is elected to serve every Nebraskan.”
The stakes couldn’t be any higher in this legislative session. A strong public school system has long been an engine of opportunity that can mitigate the terrible problem of inequality in this country. That’s one of many reasons why the GOP wants to defund the public schools.
The Republicans’ other motivation is that they want to establish a right wing Christian theocracy. The likes of Ricketts wants to impose their religious beliefs on millions of Americans who don’t share them. Today’s radicalized GOP wants to give you the right to practice their religion.
I would advise everybody to stay engaged. Call your state senator and let him/her know what you think about Ricketts’ extreme agenda. Please get involved in the city elections in Omaha and Lincoln this year. Let’s lay the groundwork for a win in 2022. Republicans never take a day off. Now let’s leave it all out on the field!