Penner appears on his way to re-election to state Board of Education | #Education

Almost a year after his appointment to the Nebraska State Board of Education, Kirk Penner appeared on his way to a full four-year term to represent the southeastern corner of the state.

And after Tuesday night’s general election, it looks like the conservative businessman from Aurora will be joined by two like-minded colleagues.

Kirk Penner, 2022 candidate Nebraska State Board of Education, District 5.

Penner, a Republican on the officially nonpartisan board, led retired University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Helen Raikes of Ashland by more than 5,000 votes in the District 5 race with most precincts counted early Wednesday.

District 5 covers portions of Southeast Nebraska, including southern Lancaster County and south Lincoln.

Penner defeated Raikes, an independent, in the primary by more than 11,000 votes. But Raikes appeared to fare better in the November showdown, holding an early lead over Penner that slowly evaporated as the night progressed.

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Across the state, other candidates supported by the Protect Nebraska Children conservative political action committee fared well on Tuesday, riding a wave of support fueled by skepticism of the board and renewed questions about curriculum in Nebraska’s public schools.

In addition to Penner’s victory, Republican Elizabeth Tegtmeier of North Platte appeared poised to rout incumbent Robin Stevens of Gothenburg in District 7, which covers the western half of the state, holding more than 70% of the votes with most precincts reporting.

Tegtmeier, of North Platte, was heavily bankrolled by Ricketts and joined the race on the heels of the controversy over the board’s proposed health education standards.

On her website, she said her campaign was partly about protecting children “from sexually inappropriate and racially divisive material.” 

Meanwhile, Republican Sherry Jones was on her way to defeat Danielle Helzer, also of Grand Island, in commanding fashion in the race for Maureen Nickels’ seat representing central and northeast Nebraska. Nickels declined to seek another term.

Nebraska Board of Education map

As of early Wednesday, Jones held about 66% of votes with most ballots tallied.

In Omaha’s District 8, Democrat incumbent Deborah Neary appeared to defeat Marni Hodgen in a tight race, leading by roughly 2,000 votes in unofficial final Douglas County returns.

If the current leads hold, it will mean two conservatives will join Penner on the board, which will be tasked with hiring the next state education commissioner after Matthew Blomstedt announced his retirement last month.

The board’s political shift could also have implications efforts to revive health education standards, which have sat dormant since 2021. 

Gov. Pete Ricketts appointed Penner, who served for 16 years on the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education, last December after Patricia Timm stepped down due to health reasons.

Penner, 53, quickly surfaced as a fierce critic of the Nebraska Department of Education, putting forward an unsuccessful motion to permanently abandon writing health education standards in January.

The first draft of the standards, released in March 2021, sparked a wave of backlash for including lessons on gender identity, sexual orientation and other topics that critics call ideologically motivated.

The references were largely stripped from a second draft, but the standards were put on the shelf indefinitely over questions about the process to write them.

In the aftermath of that controversy that followed, Protect Nebraska Children was formed, backing conservatives in the board’s four races against candidates endorsed by the state’s teacher union.

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Contact the writer at or 402-473-7225. On Twitter @HammackLJS

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