Ricketts’ decision on proclamation comes off as petty

Thursday, April 27, 2017

To be fair, Gov. Pete Ricketts probably would have faced criticism regardless of his decision on a routine proclamation honoring the Nebraska State Education Association’s 150th anniversary.

Had he issued the proclamation, he would have been called a hypocrite, honoring an organization that’s been on the opposite side of issues such as school vouchers, charter schools and, most recently, third-grade reading requirements, some positions he has held since before he entered politics.

Instead, he refused a routine proclamation request from the NSEA, even after follow-up phone calls and an in-person visit with his staff.

“The Ricketts administration has re-evaluated how we issue proclamations relating to education,” the governor’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “All future proclamations will be issued with a focus on teacher innovation and/or student achievement. Governor Ricketts deeply values the work Nebraska teachers do each day and we will look for ways to honor the work of teachers who achieve improved student outcomes.”

Following that same logic, the governor’s office should judge proclamations for civil engineering groups on how well our sewer systems are holding up and the number of potholes in our roads, architects for how close building construction projects come to meeting budget, or how well farmers are adapting to changing market conditions — all proclamations recently issued.

For its part, NSEA President Nancy Fulton called the action “mean-spirited and indefensible” and said it “showed disrespect for NSEA’s 28,000 members and the hundreds of thousands of former members who spent their careers teaching children in Nebraska.”

“As a 34-year public school teacher, I am offended by your clear and complete lack of respect and appreciation for the thousands of public school employees and their advocacy organization – the NSEA,” Fulton continued.

“Your refusal also clarifies your lack of respect for and understanding of public education as one of the foundational institutions of American freedom: our public schools. Finally, your decision to ignore this historic milestone of advocacy for children and public education contributes to the adage that ‘Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.’”

Do an off-the-record poll with those 28,000 NSEA members, and you’ll find widely varying opinions on most of the official positions held by their organization. They’re taxpayers, too, and you’ll find many who would appreciate vouchers to send their children to private schools, or who would be first in line to criticize the public school system.

A governor’s proclamation honoring any such professional organization carries about as much weight as the paper it is printed on.

Refusal to do so is a different matter.

Ricketts’ action comes off as petty and foolish.

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