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Herbster draws national attention for comments on sex ed, school choice at Sunday rally

Posted at 7:40 PM, May 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-02 20:41:17-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Republican candidate for Governor Charles Herbster got national attention on Sunday for comments he made about education policy in Nebraska.

“We’re going to take sex education out of the schools and put it back into the homes where it belongs,” said Herbster.

While that statement is pretty stark, Herbster's campaign gave 3 News Now a more nuanced policy statement on sex education. Herbster believes, says his campaign, that reforms are needed for children to be protected, that age-appropriate materials are taught, and for school boards to listen to local parents.

That position is similar to the other top two Republican candidates for governor.

Candidate Jim Pillen spoke out against health and sex education standards the Nebraska State Board of Education attempted to pass last year. His campaign also told 3 News Now that Pillen believes sex education should be up to parents, not the government.

Candidate Brett Lindstrom’s team said he wants to empower parents.

Jill Brown, a developmental psychologist at Creighton University spoke in favor of the health and sex education standards last year and says not teaching sex education in school, or waiting until high school, goes against her own and other research.

“We are whole people, that we are not just here to learn arithmetic, reading and writing. We have to deal with relationships. We have to deal with consent. We have to deal with the things THEY are bringing to school, saying 'these are happening to me,'” said Brown.

That wasn’t the only education policy Herbster made headlines with on Sunday.

“We’re going to quit funding the unions. We’re going to quit funding the education system and we’re going to put the money with every single child where it belongs in the education system in this state,” said Herbster.

Jenni Benson, President of the Nebraska State Education Association reacted strongly when she heard him say that he was going to “quit funding the education system.”

“Making blanket rhetoric kind of statements is not really a plan. It’s just talk,” said Benson.

Over the last few years, there have been intense efforts to bring in tax credits to those that donate to private schools and even mentions of voucher programs and charter schools.

Daniel Russell is the interim president for the non-partisan group Stand for Schools, which advocates for public education, says he believes most Nebraska residents would rather double down on public education.

“These programs undermine public schools, both in outcomes and in funding. So, rather than sending state dollars to public institutions, we believe that money would better be invested in public schools that serve nine-out-of-ten Nebraska students,” said Russell.

Still, many Republicans have made it clear they want some form of school choice — whether it be the majority of the legislature or Pillen and Lindstrom, who are both open to it.

Advocates say it would help lower-income students find a school where they can succeed.

Benson worries about how this would shake up school funding. She believes it could lead to the eventual consolidation of rural schools and some of the few kids they have enrolled would leave.

“Well, if you look at where the density and the geographic and the demographics of Nebraska are, it would be very difficult to say this is equitable,” said Benson.

This past year in the legislature, a tax credit for those that donate to private school scholarships was heavily debated and narrowly failed. Some called it the first step toward school choice.

Democratic candidate Carol Blood voted against it and has made fully funding public education a major platform in her campaign.

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