Omaha World Herald candidate questions from Maris Bentley, candidate for the State Board of Education, District 5

— What priorities would you want to focus on if you’re elected to the State Board of Education?

I will focus on:  

  • Ensuring that every child reaches proficiency in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies, including civics.  I am especially emphatic that every child should be reading at grade level by the third grade. What is education without the ability to read, to comprehend, and to think critically using solid reasoning skills?  
  • Local control of our schools, because parents and local communities know what is best for their own children, not the wealthy foundations or the bureaucrats in DC
  • Parents’ rights
  • Teaching American values: there ARE self-evident truths and inalienable rights like the right to life, liberty, religious freedom, self-defense, and due process
  • Getting more value from our education dollars

  — If you’re elected, at the end of your first term on the Board of Education, what would you hope that colleagues and constituents would say about how you approached the job and accomplished?

I would hope that they would say that I was truly a “voice” for the moms and dads, the grandparents, the local communities and school districts of District 5, which encompasses 16 counties of southeast Nebraska, and includes a small part of Lancaster County.  I have traveled extensively throughout the district, walked in many parades, and talked with the residents. I was raised and lived in rural, small town Nebraska most of my life, and I believe I have a good sense of the values and concerns of my district. Small schools, which is what District 5 is comprised of, offer a quality education, usually at a lower per pupil cost, and I will work to strengthen and protect them.  If I am elected for a 4 year term, I plan to meet with every local school board and administration in District 5 to learn from them about their successes and their concerns, including how the State Board of Education can support and assist the work they do, which is the heart of education: day-to-day instruction in the classroom.

 — What are some of the key strengths you have that would help you contribute well to the Board of Education?

I think that my biggest strengths are my commitment to education, my work ethic, and my desire to represent the local school districts and communities, and protect local control of education.   

Because I received an excellent public education myself, I want to ensure that opportunity and quality of public education for all Nebraskans.  The education of our children is vitally important. “Since the founding of this Nation, education and democracy have gone hand in hand.” (Ronald Reagan Radio Address, September 10, 1988: )  

I have already been in over 20 parades, and in every one of the counties that are part of District 5, communicating with parents, teachers, taxpayers, business owners, and community members.  I want to be the “voice” of the people, and I have not and will not take any money from special interests or unions because I do not want to be accountable to anyone other than the people who elect me.  

— Is the AQuESST accountability system serving Nebraska well? Are there any general ways that you would want to change it?

Yes, I believe the AQuESTT accountability system is serving Nebraska well.  I do not know of any stakeholders in Nebraska who aren’t pleased with AQuESTT— students and families, teachers, administrators, local school districts, the Department of Education, and the State Board of Education.  As an accountability system for school districts, I am pleased that AQuESTT is not just evaluating student achievement based on a single test or series of tests, but also takes into account such factors as teacher effectiveness, educational opportunities and access, and college, career, and civic readiness.

— There’s been debate on the Board about what should be included in social studies standards for Nebraska schools. What are your general thoughts on what should be included?

My B.A. is in Social Studies education, which I taught at the 7-12 grade levels (and I have an M.S. in K-12 School Counseling).  As a teacher and a citizen who understands and appreciates the unique role and contributions of America, I have become more and more concerned that we are not teaching our children, in the words of the 2012 Nebraska Social Studies standards, “…to become young patriots who have an intellectual understanding of the genius of our country’s founding principles and who feel an emotional connection to our nation.”  Are we actually helping our young people (as those same standards also note), “…to become responsible citizens who are prepared to preserve, protect and defend freedom and democracy in our nation and in the world?” (  Many of the voters I’ve spoken to in District 5 think we are not doing a good job of this.  My husband and I met a 94 year old World War II veteran in Endicott (population 150) this last weekend who told us that his buddies who fought and died in that War would not recognize this country, and he said to us “We don’t even know what is right and wrong anymore.”  We must ensure that American values like truths that are self-evident (do we even believe in truth anymore, as this veteran pointed out?), and inalienable rights, like the right to life, liberty, religious freedom, assembly, and due process are instilled in our young people.  

— The State Board majority voted last year to loosen the testing requirements for teachers. Gov. Pete Ricketts recently vetoed that decision. What are your general thoughts on that issue?

I understand that there is a shortage of qualified teachers in some areas of the state, and in some subject areas.  However, I really don’t think the answer is to lower our standards when it comes to teacher preparation and testing.  The lowering of our standards and expectations, for teachers and for students, seems to me to be part of our problem in education, so how could it be part of the solution?   

— What is your general take on Education Commission Matthew Blomstedt?

I have only met Commissioner Blomstedt a few times, when I attended several State Board meetings over the past couple of years.  Based on that limited experience, I would say that Commissioner Blomstedt seems like someone who is knowledgeable, and who listens, not only to the Board, but also to the public, and is willing to consider alternate points of view and a variety of strategies to bring about educational excellence in our public schools.

— Should Nebraska allow charter schools?

Though the authority to authorize charter schools resides with the Unicameral and not the State Board of Education, I will say that I am personally an advocate of school choice.  I’m not sure if charter schools are the answer, however.   Families who are living in poverty, in areas with poorly performing schools, should have the choice of where to send their children to school.  Wealthy parents always have that choice available to them, and it is wrong to deny school choice to other families and students based on income.  The schools in my District (District 5 in southeast Nebraska) don’t need to worry about allowing some mechanism for school choice; it’s the poorly performing schools, those that are failing to provide a good education for young people, who can and should have to “up their game”—wouldn’t some healthy competition motivate them to do a better job?  Young people should not be trapped in low performing schools because they cannot afford to go elsewhere. How to accomplish this, however, is up for debate.

— If there is anything you wanted to mention to me that I failed to ask about, please feel free to add that here.

I am a big supporter and advocate for public schools.  As I already mentioned, I received an excellent education in the Nebraska public schools.  Most of our Nebraska children have been and will continue to be educated in the public school systems, so we must ensure that they receive a quality education.    

I think it is time to ask some of the difficult questions like:  What are we spending our educational dollars on and why? How can we do a better job of ensuring that every child reaches proficiency in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies, including civics?    What about our teacher preparation programs, how do we evaluate and improve them? If we believe as we say, that parents are the primary educators of children, are our policies, programs, and standards at the state level really reflective of this belief?  How successful are our students after graduation—have they become productive, responsible, knowledgeable citizens who are successfully making a living and contributing to the common good?

I have been endorsed by Governor Pete Ricketts; Lt. Governor Mike Foley; State Senator Mike Groene, Chairman of the Education Committee; Senator Rob Clements (my own senator); Nebraska Right to Life; and Nebraskans for Founders’ Values.