Lawmakers advance omnibus education bill

A bill that would make technical changes to existing education statutes was advanced from general file May 4.

Cedar Rapids Sen. Kate Sullivan introduced LB525, the Education Committee’s annual “clean-up” bill.

The bill would clarify that any homeless student must be admitted without charge to the district in which the student is currently located or the school where the student was last enrolled.

It also would allow an early childhood professional to report his or her educational degrees or professional credentials, relevant training and work experience to the Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Record System.

An Education Committee amendment, adopted 32-0, added to the bill provisions of LB524, also introduced by Sullivan, regarding the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). CEP is a federal program that allows school districts in which at least 40 percent of students are defined as poverty students to offer free meals to all students without collecting applications from households.

To encourage participation in the program, the amended bill would redefine low-income and poverty students under the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA) to include students that receive free meals under CEP.

Provisions of several additional bills also were incorporated under the committee amendment, including:
• LB526, introduced by Sullivan, which would clarify that an individual holding a permit issued by the Commission of Education would be included under the definition of individuals certified to teach, administer or provide special services;
• LB239, introduced by Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar, which would reallocate funds generated by solar and wind energy agreements on school lands to assist schools in implementing an effective educator evaluation model;
• LB572, introduced by Hyannis Sen. Al Davis, which would require the state security director to recommend curricular and extracurricular material designed to prevent cyber-bullying; and
• LB410, introduced by Sullivan, which would expand eligibility for the Access College Early Scholarship Program Act to include students participating in a career academy or career path of study.

Omaha Sen. Tanya Cook introduced an amendment, which incorporated provisions of her LB509.

Currently, school districts that spend less than 50 percent of their poverty allowance in a given year are disqualified from receiving the allowance in the ensuing year under TEEOSA. The amendment would eliminate the disqualification and instead impose a 5 percent reduction in the allowance upon failure to meet requirements.

Cook said school districts are unfairly expected to predict the future under the current plan.

“Current law threatens schools with penalties if needs, expenditures or plans change,” she said. “This would help to address generational poverty while maintaining institutional accountability in our school funding.”

Senators adopted the Cook amendment on a 37-0 vote.

Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha also introduced an amendment, adopted 25-18, which incorporated modified provisions of his LB343 regarding career-readiness programs.

Schools could apply for reimbursement of implementation costs associated with providing college- and career-readiness programs under the amendment. Beginning July 2016, funding would be available for each student who successfully completes a designated program of excellence, dual-enrollment course or career-readiness program.

Applications for reimbursement would be on a first come, first served basis and be limited to $2 million for fiscal year 2016-17. After one year, the program would need to be reauthorized to continue.

Kolowski said that providing funding outside of the TEEOSA formula would help all school districts, not just schools receiving equalization aid.

“I’m confident that this innovative way for funding rigor in our schools will warrant future funding,” he said.

Following the adoption of a technical amendment, senators advanced LB525 to select file on a 27-15 vote.

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