I was alarmed when President Trump recently referred to our public schools as “government schools” – as if they are of lesser quality than pay-to-learn schools.

I was even more alarmed when Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts blatantly borrowed the same term, blasting his own state’s education system.

It immediately reminded me of a particular experience. I was on hand when Ricketts came to York Public High School to celebrate our thriving FFA program. He seemed legitimately impressed – as he should be – but maybe he’s harder to read than I thought.

Maybe not. From Auburn to York, the Governor’s office routinely honors the accomplishments and quality education provided by our state’s public schools. Stripping them of funding, as our Governor has proposed, seems counterintuitive at best.

Our area public schools are hardly “failing,” as the President claimed in his speech. The York Public School system, for example, routinely utilizes innovative, unique ideas to motivate and educate. High school students are learning about biology and ecology hands on, thanks to a generous grant and a dedicated teacher going beyond the books. “The Best Middle School in Nebraska” has “book tastings” and afterschool accordion lessons from a local virtuoso. A few weeks ago, I witnessed York Elementary School principals sacrifice their taste buds by eating “worms,” just to share the joys of learning. The annual MLK Day workshop enhances teaching all over the state. Our public school teachers and administrators are experts on convergent learning, incorporating educational vehicles all students can understand, whether it be through technology or the arts.

To be sure, private schools can be innovative as well. Even so, public schools offer kids of every race, gender, age, family income – literally, any kid -- life-changing, eye-opening moments, whatever their interests, without worrying about tuition or fees.

Taxpayers primarily fund our schools, and should be proud to do so. I have no children, but I pay taxes knowing how much schools contribute to my community. Covering the York News Times education beat, I see it every day. It is scary what cutting funds to our schools would do to us – many public schools already have to hold fundraisers for items and services that should be learning essentials; essentials often shared with taxpayers. We sometimes take for granted things like walking laps in the school gym, attending parades featuring our student-musicians and being loud-and-proud of our local student-athletes.

I wonder what the Governor’s school days were like – attending a “government school” is what helped him get to the Governor’s Mansion (he is an Omaha Westside High School graduate). If he had a bad experience, I’m sorry for that, but I am sure his experience at a “government school” was much better than he is willing to admit. His parents certainly had the means to send him to any private school they desired.

Public schools – the Governor’s alma mater included – are largely independent from investors and private think tanks. Teachers teach the ways they best see fit for their students without being corporate puppets. In turn, students thrive and learn to think for themselves.

Governor Ricketts must have slept through that lesson.

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