The University of Nebraska at Omaha College Republicans invited Mike Kennedy for Regents and Robert Anthony Sr. on Feb. 20, for the State Board of Education to talk with students about their campaign and why they are running for office.
Mike Kennedy graduated from UNO in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science in political science. He served on the Metropolitan School Board in 1998, where he improved some of the programs and helped start the culinary institute and renovations on the South Omaha Metro campus.
Kennedy was elected to the Millard Public School Board in 2002 and is currently serving on the board.
“We’ve done a lot on college education because Millard has the first early college program,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said Millard had students last year who walked across the Metro stage with an associate’s degree, and the next week walked across the stage in Baxter with a high school diploma.
Kennedy said his campaign focuses on the four A’s: affordability, accountability, achievement and alignment.
“The cost of the university system is $2.66 billion dollars,” said Kennedy. “Right now, we are funding $906 million general fund, so we have a 1.77 billion deficit.”
Kennedy said one of the ways he can help make college affordable is to work with high school students to get as many college credits as necessary and receive college degrees earlier. The second part of the affordability plan is to maintain the university budget and to develop internship programs for students to increase the ability to be hired in high paying jobs.
“We have a lot of high-end talent on campus in various fields that can make a lot more,” Kennedy said. “That helps us cut student costs down.”
Kennedy introduced the “golden handcuff” plan, usually used to encourage retention rates for employees. Kennedy’s plan, however, will be used to keep post-graduate students working in Nebraska, generating state revenue by providing tuition forgiveness after remaining in the state for a certain amount of years.
Kennedy said one of the biggest issues is that students attend secondary education and move to another state for job opportunities.
“What’s the Nebraska taxpayer going to do to get out of that? Zero, and the jobs don’t get filled here,” Kennedy said. “University is the number one economic tool in the state with state tax dollars because we invest a billion dollars in here.”
Kennedy said he wants to focus on aligning the curriculum to the jobs so when students graduate from the university, they have a job waiting for them after graduation.
“Problem is, we have students taking classes in areas there are no jobs for. So, we need to do a better job advising students getting on the internships, which gets them some of the jobs, so when they do have some student debt, the part of it that isn’t forgiven is manageable,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said when taxpayers give billions of dollars to secondary institutions, they want to make sure that the university is accountable for student success.
“You make sure if a dollar gets spent for a certain department, it’s all spent correctly,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said when he attended UNO as a student, he was the Head of the Student Affairs committee for the student senate where some of the resolutions from the committee include the expansion of the Milo Bail Student Center and demand for dorms to be on the university campus.
“I’m very proud of what this campus has done, but to be a Regent you just can’t be parochial and just focus on your own campus,” Kennedy said. “This is a big state, we have a big economy and I will treat all the campuses equally and make sure they have the needs that they have.”
Along with Kennedy the other guest invited to the forum was Robert Anthony Sr.
Anthony served in the military for 22 years as an Air Force veteran. He worked as an airborne linguist and as an airborne mission specialist supervisor. He retired in October 2019 to work as a real estate agent with Keller Williams. Anthony said even though he faced limitations in political involvement because of his military background, he can still vote and talk about his political stances.
Anthony joined the Sarpy County Republicans meetings and became connected with many of the members in the meeting.
“I want to exist on another level in the community,” said Anthony. “I was handcuffed for so many years, and the state board of education in my district opened up for me and I thought to myself ‘This is something I feel very strongly about.’”
Anthony recalled how the experience of dealing with the Baltimore school system inspired him to be involved in the board of education to improve the current school system. While stationed in Baltimore, Anthony said he was disappointed in the Baltimore school system because of the lack of safety and concern for students after he recalled one experience when he visited the school due to his son’s concern for his own safety.
“I went with him the next day to speak to his counselor to talk about his classes,” Anthony said. “There were metal detectors at the doors and the entire school is always locked, badge in and badge out.”
Anthony said when he talked with his son’s counselor, the school went to lockdown due to letting a student who was recently released from jail be escorted to a certain area of the school. Because of the experience, he moved his son to a county school.
“It was better, but it was still not ideal,” Anthony said. “I saw what a lack of structure, accountability and physical responsibility the rest of the state suffered for all because of Baltimore City.”
Anthony said the experience inspired him to run for the Nebraska State Board of Education.
Anthony said his campaign is based on the three core principles he learned from serving under the Air Force: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.
“Integrity is first and foremost,” Anthony said. “I may not always get something right, but I will always make it right.”
Anthony addressed the two bills that he supports that his opponents oppose: LB-147 where teachers are allowed to physically intervene if the students are violent to themselves, other students or teachers and LB-766, which prohibits sexual assault of a minor by an authority figure.
“The fact that we have to have a bill in place because of what’s taking place in our current public school system, where teachers are grooming students. That’s a problem,” Anthony said.
However, Anthony said he’s in support of the bills to promote student safety.
“Because common sense is no longer in our public school system in a lot of places, not just out public school system, we have to put a bill in place that supports the safety of our students even after they graduate,” Anthony said.
Kennedy will appear on the Board of Regents District 2 ballot along with other candidates who will be running against him.
Nebraska will also hold a primary on May 12, 2020, for four of the eight seats in the State of Education, including Anthony’s seat. The election for the State Board of Education will be on Nov. 3, 2020.