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Group collecting signatures to eliminate state board of ed

November 21, 2021 GMT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A petition drive is underway to change the Nebraska constitution and eliminate the state Board of Education.

The proposal would shift oversight of the Education Department into the governor’s office and eliminate the elected board, but backers would have to gather roughly 125,000 signatures by next July to put the question on next November’s ballot.

The Omaha World-Herald reports that the measure comes after Gov. Pete Ricketts clashed with the Education Department at times in the past year.

Ricketts spoke out strongly when the state board considered adopting new health education standards for Nebraska schools that incorporated teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation. The board later abandoned those proposed recommendations for local school districts after it encountered strong opposition.

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Ricketts said in a statement that any changes to the current structure of the department would have to be approved by voters.

“The Nebraska Department of Education should respect that parents are the primary educators of their children, and the agency must continue to be accountable to the people of Nebraska,” Ricketts said.

Critics of the petition drive said it would concentrate too much power in the governor’s office and mess up a system that is working.

Maureen Nickels, president of the state board, said the change would cause “chaos” in the department that employs more than 500 people.

“I think Nebraska really is in good hands with the way we have it,” she said.

Jenni Benson, president of the state teachers union, said the proposal would “put total power in the hands of the governor.”

The sponsors of the petition drive include Republican Michael Connely of York, who is running for governor.