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State Journal: Advocacy? Timing

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Advocacy?

A Nebraska lawmaker says two teachers crossed the line between instruction and advocacy.

Laws enacted last month limit school spending for two years and then impose a cap on local property-tax rates that is below most districts' current levies. A law distributing more state aid to low-wealth districts was also passed by the unicameral, nonpartisan legislature.

Sen. Kate Witek last month got 29 letters from students in two 4th-grade classes at Aldrich Elementary School in suburban Omaha, opposing the tax bills.

"The kids in their letters sounded terrified," she said. "They thought their teacher would be gone, that their school would be gone, you name it--that education would be gone in Millard, Nebraska."

Ms. Witek's concerns mounted as she found that she was the only lawmaker who got such letters, the Millard district is not in the area she represents, and one of the teachers is married to a campaign official for one of her opponents in an upcoming election.

Millard schools Superintendent Keith Lutz said the students were encouraged to write letters to state lawmakers as part of a unit on state government.

"We could not conclude that [the teachers] were in violation of any of our district policies," he said.

Timing

When political tensions are high, even the timing of a news conference can be controversial.

North Dakota Sen. Ray Holmberg, the chairman of an education committee, held a news briefing during a break in a panel meeting last month. He criticized state Superintendent Wayne G. Sanstead's decision to delay new credential standards for special-education teachers, the subject of a hearing the day before.

Mr. Sanstead, a Democrat, is running for re-election in November. His Republican opponent? Mr. Holmberg.

Rep. Bill Oban, a Democratic member of the panel, said that Mr. Holmberg's political use of his position was an "abuse of the legislative process," and urged that he resign the chairmanship.

Mr. Holmberg called the charge "hogwash." He said the committee had completed its debate on the issue when he spoke to reporters and said Mr. Oban was trying to distract attention from Mr. Sanstead's policy.

--Jeff Archer & Millicent Lawton

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