Session Review: Education

Senators approved significant changes to state aid to public schools under legislation considered by the Education Committee.

Aid to schools

Cedar Rapids Sen. Kate Sullivan, chair of the Education Committee, introduced LB407, which makes several adjustments to the state aid funding formula for public schools under the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA).

The bill, passed 47-0, reduces the base limitation rate for school districts from 2.5 percent to 1.5 percent for the 2013-14 school year. The rate will revert to 2.5 percent for each subsequent school year.

LB407 includes additional changes to the funding formula, including:
• a base limitation rate of 1.5 percent for fiscal year 2013-14 and 2.5 percent thereafter;
• a local effort rate of $1.03 for FY2013-14 and FY2014-15 and $1.00 thereafter;
• an averaging adjustment threshold equivalent to the average basic funding for all school districts with 900 or more formula students;
• a teacher education allowance of $30 million with distribution based on teacher education points;
• 50 percent of teacher education allowance paid as teacher education aid;
• an instructional time allowance of $20 million with distribution based on the average days in session in excess of 175 days multiplied by formula students;
• 50 percent of instructional time allowance paid as instructional time aid; and
• 2 percent additional budget growth with 75 percent board approval with the expenditures included in the general fund operating expenditures for FY2013-14 only.

The bill eliminates the local choice adjustment beginning in FY2013-14 and limits the summer school allowance to reported summer school expenditures that are not included in other allowances. It also clarifies that expenditures included in the poverty and limited English proficiency allowances cannot be included in other allowances.

Additional budget authority for early childhood education will be included in the calculation of TEEOSA aid when programs move away from grant funding. Voluntary termination agreements will be excluded from the budget, but only when districts can prove a net savings in salary and benefits over a five-year period.

Sullivan also introduced LB408, which delays the certification deadline for state aid and budget authority under the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act from March 1 to June 1 for the 2013-14 school year. The certification date reverts back to March 1 for the 2014-15 school year. Senators passed the bill on a 48-0 vote.

LB495, introduced by Sullivan, transfers funds from the Education Innovation Fund to the early childhood education grant program administered by the state Department of Education. Scheduled distributions include $1.75 million in FY2013-14, $1.85 million in FY2014-15 and $1.95 million in FY2015-16.

An additional $1 million from the Education Innovation Fund will be directed to the Early Childhood Endowment Cash Fund annually for the next three fiscal years for grants to public school programs that serve at-risk children from birth to age three.

The bill changes a funding source for programs currently supported by the Education Innovation Fund. General fund dollars will be used to fund:
• an integrated student information system;
• the Center for Student Leadership and Extending Learning Act;
• multicultural education; and
• employment costs for individuals investigating and prosecuting alleged teacher and administrator certificate violations.

The bill passed on a 46-0 vote.

Omaha Learning Community

Papillion Sen. Jim Smith introduced LB585, passed 41-0, which changes numerous responsibilities of the Omaha Learning Community coordinating council, including the prioritization of early childhood education.

Currently, the coordinating council has a 2-cent levy authority for elementary learning center facility leases and focus school capital projects. An additional 1-cent levy is dedicated to learning community pilot projects and elementary learning center employees and contracts.

LB585 reduces the 2-cent levy authority to one-half cent. The 1-cent levy will be increased by one-half cent to fund early childhood education programs for children in poverty. This will result in a net decrease of 1-cent in levy authority.

Free transportation requirements will no longer apply for open enrollment students who have not previously been accepted if the student is transferring to another school within the home district or to a school district that does not share a border with the home district.

The bill requires learning community advisory committees — comprising superintendents of member districts — to:
• submit a plan to the coordinating council providing for the implementation and administration of early childhood education programs for children in poverty;
• provide recommendations for improving the learning community diversity plan;
• review issues related to open enrollment;
• review proposals for focus programs, focus schools, magnet schools and pathways;
• provide recommendations for improving academic achievement across the learning community; and
• provide input to the coordinating council on other issues as requested.

The advisory committees will seek input from member school districts and community resources in order to maximize opportunities and resources. The committees also will make a special effort to establish programs that are readily available and accessible to children located in high poverty areas.

Other bills

York Sen. Greg Adams introduced LB211, passed 47-0, which removes provisions pertaining to coordination of community college areas through an association of the boards . Under the bill, joining an association of community colleges will be voluntary. The bill also strikes an existing statute requiring that any meeting by a community college association be conducted in accordance with the Open Meetings Act. Additionally the bill authorizes the board of governors of any community college to use college funds to pay for association membership.

LB331, introduced by Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms and passed 47-0, changes the income qualifications for receiving need-based aid for undergraduate students under the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Act.

Currently, a person’s eligibility is based on either their eligibility to receive a federal Pell grant or an expected family contribution of no more than the qualifying maximum. Pell grant eligibility and the expected family contribution are determined based on an individual’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid application. The qualifying maximum equals the prior award year qualifying maximum increased by 2.5 percent.

Due to LB331, the income qualification will be an expected family contribution equal to or less than 110 percent of the maximum expected family contribution to qualify for a Pell grant in that award year.

Omaha Sen. Tanya Cook introduced LB366, passed 42-0, which provides assistance to institutions that offer high school equivalency programs. The bill provides assistance to eligible institutions for:
• each participant who enrolls in its high school equivalency program;
• each enrolled participant who takes an initial examination for a diploma of high school equivalency; and
• each participant not enrolled in the high school equivalency program who takes the examination for a diploma or high school equivalency.

An institution will not receive assistance for any participant who fails the examination for a diploma or high school equivalency.

The bill also authorizes a one-time allocation of $85,550 from the Education Innovation Fund to the department for FY2013-14. The money will be distributed to each eligible institution for the acquisition and upgrade of equipment and software necessary to administer GED examinations.

LB410, introduced by Sullivan, makes various technical changes to current educational statutes as requested by the state Department of Education. The bill harmonizes language and eliminates obsolete language currently in statute.

Among other provisions, the bill:
• requires school districts to admit children who turn five between Aug. 1 and Oct. 15 who meet current eligibility requirements;
• allows students who move after Feb. 1 or those whose districts merge after Feb. 1 to apply for option enrollment without being released from the resident district for the following school year;
• clarifies that the enrollment option program does not relieve parents of compulsory attendance obligations, particularly while waiting for acceptance of an application;
• clarifies that an allowance paid to the parents may not substitute for transportation for open enrollment students who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches; and
• adds tuition paid and transportation fees paid to other districts into general fund operating expenditures for calculating state aid.

Senators passed the bill on a 42-0 vote.

Two bills were advanced from committee and remain on general file.

LB438, introduced by Adams, would establish an intervention team appointed by the state Board of Education to assist the state’s five lowest-performing schools in diagnosing issues and designing strategies to address them. A school would retain the priority designation until the state Board of Education determines it is no longer necessary.

The bill also would create a community school designation and a process to establish an operating council, which would advise the superintendent, the school board and the principal of the community school.

LB470, introduced by Norfolk Sen. Jim Scheer, would require that a superintendent’s contract — including all current and future costs to the school district — be publicly posted at least five days before it can be considered for approval by a school board.

After approval of a superintendent’s contract, the bill would require the school board to file a copy of the contract and any amendments with the state Department of Education by Aug. 1. If a school board fails to meet this requirement, all state aid granted under TEEOSA would be withheld until the school board is compliant.

Additionally, the county treasurer would be directed to withhold all school money until the contract has been filed with the department.

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