Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman is urging the state's top education groups to support the repeal of federal health care reform or he will assume they tacitly support a likely reduction in education funding.
"Increased funding for Medicaid is likely to result in less funding for education," Heineman says in the letter sent Wednesday to associations representing teachers, school boards and school administrators. "Don't sit on the sidelines," it says later. "I strongly urge you to support the repeal of the recently enacted federal health care law."
The letter follows the release of a state-commissioned study last week that says health care reform will increase Nebraska's Medicaid costs by $526 million to $766 million over the next decade. In May, a state-by-state report commissioned by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured estimated a much lower cost of between $106 million and $155 million.
The executive director of the Nebraska Council of School Administrators said the group's board will meet next week to discuss the letter and he didn't know whether the board would take a position on the matter. Michael Dulaney, the director, said he couldn't recall the board being asked by the governor to take a position on a federal matter.
"But we're living in very unusual times," Dulaney said. "I think the governor is demonstrating leadership and has a desire to protect K-12 funding."
Jess Wolf, president of the Nebraska State Education Association, the union representing teachers, said he expected his board would discuss the letter but didn't know whether it would take a formal position.
A Democratic state lawmaker said he thought the letter was a political ploy -- Heineman is running for re-election and the Republican is considered a possible candidate for U.S. Senate in 2012.
"Apparently the governor is willing to pit kids versus kids," said Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha. "Should we educate them or make them healthy?"
Heineman points out in the letter that the three largest pieces of the state budget are K-12 education, higher education, and Medicaid.