Session Review: Education

School funding

Cedar Rapids Sen. Kate Sullivan introduced LB525, the Education Committee’s annual “clean-up” bill. The bill clarifies that homeless students must be admitted without charge only to the district in which the student currently is located or the school where the student was last enrolled.

It also allows 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.

The bill includes 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 recognize participation in the program, the bill redefines low-income and poverty students under the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act (TEEOSA) for schools that provide free meals under CEP.

Provisions of several additional bills were incorporated into LB525, including:
• LB526, introduced by Sullivan, which clarifies that an individual holding a permit issued by the Commission of Education is included under the definition of individuals certified to teach, administer or provide special services;
• LB239, introduced by Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar, which reallocates funds generated by solar and wind energy agreements on school lands to assist schools in implementing an effective educator evaluation model;
• LB509, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tanya Cook, which eliminates a TEEOSA poverty allowance disqualification and instead imposes a 5 percent reduction in the allowance upon failure to meet requirements;
• LB572, introduced by Hyannis Sen. Al Davis, which requires the state security director to recommend curricular and extracurricular material designed to prevent cyber-bullying; and
• LB410, introduced by Sullivan, which adds income eligibility for the Access College Early Scholarship Program Act for students participating in a career academy or career path of study.

The bill passed on a 46-0 vote.

Sullivan also introduced LB519, adopted 48-0, which directs the distribution of lottery funds for educational purposes for the 2017-18 through 2020-2021 school years.

The state Board of Education will establish a competitive innovation grant program with funding from the Nebraska Education Improvement Fund, created by LB519.

Money in the Education Improvement Fund is allocated as follows:
• 1 percent to the state Department of Education for the Expanded Learning Opportunity Grant Program Act;
• 17 percent to the state Board of Education for competitive innovation grants;
• 9 percent to the Community College Gap Assistance Program;
• 3 percent to the education incentives;
• 8 percent to the Excellence in Teaching Cash Fund; and
• 62 percent to the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Fund.

Grantees can be a school district, an educational service unit (ESU) or a combination of entities that includes at least one school district or ESU. The board will award grants to applicants that are deemed innovative and to have a high chance of success.

The state Board of Education can designate an innovation project as a best practice. That program then will be included as a best practice allowance under the Tax Equity and Educational Support Opportunities Act, beginning with school year 2021-22.

Provisions of LB527, also introduced by Sullivan, are included in the bill. These change the terms for loan forgiveness under the Enhancing Excellence in Teaching Program, decreasing the annual amount forgiven from $3,000 to $1,500. Those qualifying for accelerated loan forgiveness will see a decrease from $6,000 to $1,500 the first year and to $3,000 in subsequent years.

The bill incorporates provisions of several other bills, including:
• LB380, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, which directs the Education Committee to study the affordability of postsecondary education and explore strategies to address the high cost of education;
• LB379, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz, which provides after school and out-of-school programming, funded through school-community partnership grants; and
• LB36, also introduced by Bolz, which provides funding to community colleges to award gap assistance to students in eligible non-credit accumulating programs.

Other measures

Lincoln Sen. Roy Baker introduced LB431, adopted 43-0, which expanded an exception to bidding requirements for school districts. Currently, school districts are not required to initiate a bidding process for construction, remodeling or repairs when the expenditure is estimated to cost less than $40,000. LB431 increases the threshold to $100,000.

The state Board of Education will adjust the threshold to account for inflation every five years, based upon the percentage change in the consumer price index.

Cook introduced LB382, which provides grant funding to any entity, other than an educational institution, that runs a qualified high school equivalency training program.

Passed 46-0, the bill authorizes a transfer of $400,000 from the Job Training Cash Fund to support the grant program. The amount of grant funding will depend on the number of enrolled students.

Omaha’s Literacy Center of the Midlands currently is the only program that would be eligible for funding under the bill.

Two education related bills debated this session stalled on the floor.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist introduced LB18, which would require students to receive two meningitis vaccinations, one upon entering the seventh grade and another at age 16.

After extended debate, Krist filed a motion to bracket the bill by unanimous consent. The body obliged and the bill remains on select file.

School districts would receive funding for college and career readiness programs under LB343, introduced by Omaha Sen. Rick Kolowski.

The bill would enable school districts to apply for reimbursement beginning July 2016 for each student who successfully completes a designated program of excellence, dual-enrollment course or career readiness program.

LB343 stated legislative intent to appropriate $2 million for the program in fiscal year 2016-17, $5 million in FY2017-18, $7 million in FY2018-19 and $10 million in FY 2019-2020.

The bill remains on select file.

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