When people ask him if he ever misses teaching, Sen. Greg Adams of York, the new Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature, says no.“Because I’m still teaching,” he said.
Adams, 60, taught in York Public Schools for 31 years. He said his teaching experiences have helped him with his work as a Nebraska senator.
Adams was first elected to the legislature in 2006. He previously served as a member of the York City Council from 1986 to 1996 and then as mayor of York from 1996-2006.
It wasn’t until he entered the Legislature that Adams left his classroom at York High School.
“I truly do feel like the committee hearing room or the floor is like a classroom,” he said, “and you have these people that need to understand your position.”
Adams said he could never sway votes if the other senators could not understand his view. The communication skills he learned while teaching have helped him persuade others during debates. Teaching has become a critical part of his job as a senator, he said.
Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, who replaced Adams as chair of the Education Committee after his election to speaker, said she saw his classroom experience reflected in his leadership style.
“He was the consummate teacher,” Sullivan said, “always posing the right questions and following up with each of us when we discussed bills during executive sessions of the committee.”
“I believe that whole approach will serve him well as speaker,” she added.
His teaching experience has also helped him think from the perspective of his constituents during hearings on certain bills, especially in his time as chairman of the Education Committee.
“Many times, I sat there thinking, all right, if I were in a classroom, how do I make time for this,” he said, “or what would my colleagues say back at York Public Schools if the Legislature passed this.”
Politics of reality
Adams said, however, that his experience as a senator could have helped him while teaching American government and economics to high school students. When he opened a textbook, he said he found only the fundamental ideas he would teach his students.
“Every year, I knew I was leaving something out,” Adams said. “That something was the politics of what goes on.”
He said he could find ways to teach about the three branches of government and the Bill of Rights, but he could never find a good way to teach the underlying relationships that are crucial to the lawmaking process.
He said his time in the classroom also did not prepared him for working with school funding and the state aid formula.
More $$ for education
He praised the governor’s call for increased education funding in the proposed budget. Adams said he was confident that the money would be distributed fairly between urban and rural schools.
“The system is blind to whether a school is urban or rural,” he said.
Adams said rural Nebraska has seen an increase in land valuation and a decrease in enrollment, but that the opposite is true in many urban areas.
Higher enrollment and less revenue from property taxes have led to an increase in need for state funding among urban school districts.
He said that more than 50 percent of students in Nebraska are being educated in seven school districts, which means half of the education money only goes to a handful of districts.
“The formula is going to weigh the needs of those school districts and everything in between, look at the resources they have available to them and say, 'Alright, where do we move this equalization money,'” Adams said.
He also said depopulation, reflected by lower school enrollment, is the biggest concern for rural Nebraskans. With depopulation, it’s difficult for those communities to keep businesses open, said Adams, who was raised in York before attending Wayne State College.
Also with depopulation comes fewer representatives from rural areas of the state, but Adams said he does not believe this has had a silencing effect on rural voices.
“I have seen few votes cast strictly along a rural/urban line,” he said. “If it’s good policy, even truly urban senators will join with the rurals.”